By Jennifer Yocum-Stans
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Pine County affected by data security incident

Up to 4,400 residents may have had personal information exposed

 

October 24, 2019



Last week, Pine County was attacked by a hacker who may have breached county security systems and accessed residents’ personal information.

According to Pine County Administrator David Minke, the information was compromised when “a malicious actor gained access through a phishing email.” This gave them access to an employee’s email account.

They discovered the breach when the “malicious actor” used the email account in an attempt to change the employee’s email account, said Minke. Once they learned of the breach, the county immediately launched an investigation, hiring an independent cyber forensics provider and legal assistance.

According to the county’s website, during the investigation they learned that some of the information within the compromised email account may have contained personal information. The county estimates the information for approximately 4,400 individuals may have been affected. This information could include names, addresses, Social Security numbers, medical/health information, insurance information, financial account numbers, mother’s maiden names, and/or state/government identification numbers. As of Monday afternoon, Administrator Minke reported that there hasn’t been any evidence of misuse of the information.


Pine County has sent out notification letters to potentially impacted residents explaining the situation and what residents can do to help protect their information. The county has also taken steps to improve data security. Minke said the county has eliminated the use of webmail and the use of auto forward rules, established a three-year email retention limit which will start in January of 2020, and implemented an employee cyber security training program.

In addition to the letter, the county has also set up a toll-free call center to answer questions about the incident and to assist with any concerns residents may have. To contact the call center, call 833-967-1094; they are available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The county’s website also says that “out of an abundance of caution, Pine County is offering identity protection services through ID Experts® to potentially impacted individuals at no cost.”

Protecting personal information

Pine County also offered information on what steps to take to protect your personal information. Some of these include:

• If you detect any suspicious activity on any of your accounts, you should promptly notify the financial institution or company with which the account is maintained. You should also promptly report any fraudulent activity or any suspected incidents of identity theft to proper law enforcement authorities.

• Obtain a copy of your credit report, free of charge, directly from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. To do so, free of charge once every 12 months, please visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll free at 1-877-322-8228. Contact information for the three nationwide credit reporting agencies is listed on the county’s website.

• Please notify your financial institution immediately of any unauthorized transactions made or new accounts opened in your name.

• You can take steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission to protect yourself from identity theft. The FTC’s website offers helpful information at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

Other suggestions included reviewing your debit or credit card statements carefully for unusual activity and reporting anything suspicious right away, or putting a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. With a fraud alert, creditors can still access your credit report as long as they take the proper steps to verify your identity. A freeze stops all access.

A press release from Lewis Brisbois, the law firm assisting the county with this incident, stated Monday afternoon, “Pine County regrets that the incident occurred, and is taking additional steps to strengthen its security to minimize the chance of an event like this happening in the future.”

 

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