Tarrant County Appraisal District works to fix protest dashboard – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

As appraisal notices go out, homeowners are walking into the Tarrant Appraisal District office with their questions.

The good thing, says Chief Appraiser Joe Don Bobbitt, is that, on average, homeowners can expect a 6% increase in home values, compared to 23% last year and 18% the year before.

“The values… they haven’t gone up this year as much as they have in the past, so, we’re excited about that,” he said.

He expects the same number of protests, though– around 200,000.

When folks get their property value notices, which started going out this week, they have 30 days to file their protest.

But right now, doing that online isn’t possible: The protest dashboard isn’t fully working.

“We hope it’ll be up by this Friday. We’re not making any promises,” Bobbitt said.

He said TAD has been shifting to a new website host, but the process was delayed after the appraisal district was hit by a cyber-attack last month.

Hackers posted some information for 300 people online and demanded $700,000.

“We lost connectivity due to the ransomware incident, and so we’re just kind of behind the ball,” Bobbitt said.

Bobbitt declined to comment on whether TAD intends to pay hackers’ demand.

He said they don’t plan to extend the protest deadline and encourage people to email their protest form or bring it to the appraisal district in person.

“[We have] a little workshop area set up where you can come in, file your protest, and talk to an appraiser right here immediately when you first come in,” he said.

Tax consultant Chandler Crouch doesn’t want the district’s cyber-challenges to deter folks from trying to save money.

“There’s some unique dynamics that are happening this year. The bottom line is it’s still a good idea to protest,” he said.

He hopes TAD can get their new site off the ground without a glitch.

“I think that it is gonna play a role in protests moving forward. We won’t know exactly how much, but I’m expecting the website to have some intermittent issues,” Crouch said.

On Wednesday Crouch used a specialized browser to view the Dark Web, showing NBC5 documents released by the hacking organization Medusa as part of the breach of TAD last month.

“It’s shocking the amount of data that they have,” Crouch said. “I mean it’s in the millions of documents.”

Among the sample of stolen information were Tarrant residents’ drivers license numbers, and pictures of people’s IDs.

As Tarrant residents prepare to protest their valuations, some have been worried about sending information to TAD online in the wake of the attack.

“We’ve had a handful of people reach out to our office very, very concerned,” Crouch said. “One lady locked down her bank accounts.”

NBC5 asked TAD for a response to taxpayer concerns about protesting their property taxes online in the wake of the attack.

“TAD is aware that the criminal group Medusa has illegally posted files they claimed to have obtained from the TAD network,” the district said in a statement. “All individuals, under 300 in total, whose legally protected information was potentially affected have already been notified via U.S. First-Class Mail as of last week.”

“These letters provide details on the type of data that may have been accessed as well as outline the complimentary credit monitoring and identity protection services we are offering,” TAD continued.

Bobbitt says they’re working to make their new site safer and faster—but wants to reassure neighbors.

“As far as we know, our database was not actually breached. Our appraisal software and image system was not actually breached. So, most of the information we had was not affected,” he said.

Bobbitt said the neighbors who were affected by the attack have been notified by mail.

TAD has also created a call center for folks who can ask more questions and find out if they were mailed a letter.

The call center is available Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. and can be reached at 1-800-939-4170.

You can find more resources from TAD here.


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