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Possible security breach shuts down county servers

Firm says it’s a precaution by Cristina LaRue | November 9, 2022 at 4:01 a.m.
Cables are plugged into servers and computers in this Jan. 23, 2018 file photo. (AP/Michel Spingler)

A company providing computer services to more than half of Arkansas' counties instructed some government offices to shut down their servers over the weekend as a precaution because of a possible security breach.

The move led some county offices to close Monday and others to keep paper records. Officials said Tuesday that the shutdown had no effect on the state's election process.

The company, Apprentice Information Systems, operates in just about every county in Arkansas, a spokesman said Tuesday, but not necessarily every county is going to have issues with their servers. The spokesman, Doug Matayo, is a consultant for the company and is also chief executive officer of Standing Rock Consulting.

"I know that some systems are coming on now ... but it could be early next week before the majority of counties come up completely, there's still obviously a forensic look taking place, making sure everything's clean," Matayo said.

"Every county is kind of in their disaster protocol, which basically means their non-technology protocols for now in the interim, but Apprentice and the counties are in contact each day conducting assessments and updates."

Matayo said details about the security breach could not be disclosed because of security concerns.

"Obviously there are a lot of layers to this, we're also discussing with law enforcement to make sure they are aware," Matayo said.

"Elections are unaffected, none of the data is co-mingled," Matayo said, adding the company nonetheless reached out to the Secretary of State's Office to make sure they were aware.

Reports indicate that as many as 40 of Arkansas's 75 counties may have been affected. Kevin Niehaus, director of public relations and government relations for the Secretary of State's office said that rough estimate sounded correct.

"We were notified Saturday to come and shut the server down and I basically haven't talked to anyone from Apprentice since yesterday," Fulton County Circuit Clerk Vickie Bishop said Tuesday.

"None of our election stuff is down, our printing software is down and that runs our recording program for our county records but there's nothing down on our election stuff or our state computers," Fulton County Chief Deputy Clerk Michele Tomlinson said.

For election night reporting, county vote tallies are uploaded to a laptop computer with no internet connection and the data is moved to a thumb drive; that data is then uploaded to a secure site accessible only by the Secretary of State's Office, Tomlinson said.

The software used to collect the votes is a completely different system from the one that is connected to the internet and used to send the vote totals to the Secretary of State's office, she said.

Karla Burnett, director of Pulaski County Tax Assessors Office said Tuesday afternoon that her office has a contract with Apprentice.

"I was first made aware of a concern on Saturday and our system is back up as of [Tuesday] morning."

"We were alerted that there had been a potential breach to the system and we disconnected from [Apprentice Information Systems] and took our system offline so that we could send our IT director to go through our server and do kind of a forensic audit of it and ensure that we felt it was safe to bring our system back up or put it back on, which we did [Tuesday] morning," Burnett said.

"We in the Assessor's Office are in the only office in Pulaski County that uses Apprentice and our servers are completely separate from all other county servers," Burnett said.

The Baxter Bulletin newspaper reported Monday that software and phone lines were down at the Baxter County Assessor's and Collector's offices because the server that provides those services to the offices was taken down over the weekend at the request of Apprentice Information Systems.

KAIT-TV, Channel 8, in Jonesboro reported Monday that the Craighead County Tax Collector's office was notified by Apprentice Information Systems that its server had been "compromised."

Apprentice Information Systems provides software and data services and has a presence in more than 80 counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to the company's website.

Print Headline: Counties alerted of breach, told to shut off servers

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