Nearly a half-million people have called a credit-monitoring hotline established after it was revealed that a hacker accessed the Social Security numbers of 3.6 million South Carolina taxpayers, Gov. Nikki Haley said during a press conference on Monday.
Haley announced Friday that a hacker with an international IP address hacked into state Department of Revenue files containing tax records submitted since 1998. State Law Enforcement Division Director Mark Keel said state officials learned of the problem Oct. 10 although the hacker may have gotten into the files as early as August.
Haley said Friday that the people whose information has been accessed are entitled to a free year of credit-monitoring service provided by Experian. By Monday, Haley said, 455,000 people called the hotline that was set up, and of those who called, 154,000 have signed up for the monitoring service.
About 300 people are answering calls, and the hold time was at 12 minutes Monday morning, Haley said. She said she is hopeful that the hold time will decrease in the coming days. She reminded residents that they have until the end of January to call in order to qualify for the free service.
During Monday's news conference, Haley said that people who have children listed on their returns and whose information was accessed will be able to have their children added to the credit monitoring service. She said state officials are working with the Department of Defense to contact members of the military who may have been affected.
As for the investigation into the hacking, Keel said it is on-going and sensitive. He said it may be a few months before investigators are certain as to what type of information was compromised.
"None of us can be certain that we are secure," Keel said.
Haley said South Carolina used the same standards as banks and other private institutions when it decided not to encrypt Social Security numbers and other information on a database of state tax returns. She called the attack unbelievably creative.
Monday, Haley said the holes have been plugged and that leaders are working to determine what needs to be done to protect sensitive information at other state agencies.
An Upstate IT security expert, Deveren Werne, said the hackers didn't make the hole they breached - there was one left open. He said more could have been done by the government.
"Somebody's at fault," Werne said. "There was vulnerability somewhere that was exercised, somehow they got in. If you had 100 percent security, and you had a locked down firewall, there would be no getting in. period."
Werne owns Liquid Video Technologies in Easley and said all data should be encrypted and all ports into government file systems should be closed.
Haley and government officials will give an additional update on the hacking at a news conference Tuesday morning.
People are asked to visit protectmyid.com/scdor and enter code SCDOR123 or call 1-866-578-5422 to determine if their Social Security number was accessed.
Copyright 2012 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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