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Malware Hack Forces State Health and Social Services Agency to Reduce Online Services

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The state Department of Health and Social Services has taken down its website and halted many online services in response to a cyberattack on the agency’s computer network. It’s the third reported case of hackers gaining access to a state-operated network over the past six months.

DHSS spokesperson Clint Bennett says department officials shut down the website and online services offered by 17 subagencies soon after they discovered the malware attack Monday night.

A news release issued Tuesday says department officials took those actions to “prevent further disruption of its network and harm to its servers, systems and databases.”

That’s made it challenging for workers at those agencies, which offer a wide range of services including vital records, case management for needy-families and youth-offender data management. An employee at one of the agencies who didn’t want to be identified said workers spent much of Tuesday printing out documents and taking other measures to back up records.

Another agency employee said Wednesday that her office was still doing business, albeit slowly.

“I’m still able to do everything that I need to get done, just a little slower,” says Emily Dove, an office assistant at the Delta Junction Public Health Office. “Like, I can walk away and come back and go ‘OK, it’s finally loaded!’ ”

But, she added, “Other than that, we’re able to do business as usual.”

Dove says the website to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments still functions.

The DHSS news release says that’s one of the online services still available on a website that’s not hosted by the agency. The appointment site, and the department’s covid-data dashboards, can still be accessed through covid.alaska.gov.

The news release advises members of the public to call agencies whose online services have been shut down.

It says the website and online services will remain unavailable until investigators can find out more about the attack and rid the network of the malware. A DHSS spokesperson said in an email Wednesday that the department is working with several organizations, including federal law enforcement and a cybersecurity company. He declined to respond to other questions about the investigation.

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The Alaska Court System's homepage and online services remain limited after last month's malware attack.

The DHSS hack is the third reported recent cyberattack on state websites. The Alaska Court System shut down much its site last month after a malware attack. The home page was still offline Wednesday.

Late last year, hackers stole the personal information of more than a hundred-thousand Alaskans in an attack on the state Division of Elections’ online voter-registration system.

The DHSS news release says investigators are trying to determine whether hackers have accessed any personal or confidential information in this most recent attack. It says department officials are notifying people who’ve been directly affected by the hack, as well as companies or organizations that work with the agency.

Editor's note: telephone numbers and other contact information for services that are temporarily offline is available on the DHSS website.