‘Network Disruption’ Hits Texas County Appraiser Website | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

(TNS) — The Tarrant Appraisal District’s website was down for a few hours Thursday after a “network disruption,” and the district is working with leading, independent cybersecurity experts to assess the issue, officials told The Dallas Morning News.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Tarrant chief appraiser Joe Don Bobbitt said his office does not believe that sensitive data was affected by the incident.

“Our investigation into the matter remains ongoing,” he said. “However, at this time, we do not have reason to believe sensitive information was involved. If that determination changes, we will take appropriate steps to notify those involved.”

Bobbitt said the district became aware of the “network disruption” Thursday and initiated an investigation. It’s unclear what caused the disruption. The district would not say if it reported the incident to law enforcement agencies. Attempts to contact the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office before publication were not returned.

At 11:56 a.m., the website’s homepage simply read “hello world.” By 2 p.m., the website was back up and functioning. IT staff were able to isolate the website problem and restore it. Staff are working to restore phone and email access. The district’s office is still open in a limited capacity, but the appraisal software is not online yet, Bobbitt said.

“TAD has invested significant time and resources into our systems and practices to ensure we are appropriately protecting our network and data. Our investigation is ongoing in an effort to determine how this occurred,” he said.

The district launched its new website last week after a database error caused its old site to crash. Bobbitt told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week that the district hired a third party to investigate the potential breach of taxpayer information.

The district was the victim of a cyber attack in 2022, but an investigation found no taxpayer information compromised.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported ransomware incidents were on the rise in 2023 with over 2,825 complaints reported. That’s an 18 percent increase from 2022. Reported losses rose 74 percent, from $34.3 million to $59.6 million.

Several entities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been affected by recent data security breaches.

Nearly 2,100 people were affected by a breach that included medical and health insurance information, addresses, and dates of birth at UT Southwestern Medical Center earlier this month.

In October, hackers with the cyber criminal group ‘Play’ accessed Dallas County’s network. While the county’s cybersecurity detected and kicked the hackers [out] before they shut down the system, the group was able steal data — mostly criminal case information accessible through public records requests — and posted it on the dark web.

Last year, hackers with the group Royal targeted the city of Dallas, resulting in a data breach that affected more than 30,000 people. The City Council voted in August to set aside $8.6 million to pay vendors for hardware, software, incident response, and consulting services in response to the ransomware attack.

The Tarrant Appraisal District is responsible for property tax appraisal and exemption administration in Tarrant County.

“At this time, we are limited in the information we can provide,” Bobbitt said. “We understand that not immediately having all the facts may be frustrating, but we need time to work through this with the specialist teams we have engaged.”

©2024 The Dallas Morning News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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