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State health department still has limited online services following cyberattack

Some systems, like background checks and vital records, have switched to manual processes
Alaska DHSS
Alaska DHSS(Alaska DHSS)
Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 5:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Nearly three weeks after the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services was the target of a cyberattack, many of its online services are still unavailable.

The department said in a Monday press release that it’s continuing to work with law enforcement and state and federal partners to analyze the disruption. The department is still working to identify what was attacked, and how, according to the release.

In the meantime, many of its online services are not available to the public, including background checks and vital records like birth and death certificates. In its initial report on the cyberattack, DHSS provided a list of services that had been taken offline, which included several portals the public uses to request various information or waivers.

The state’s online dashboard for tracking COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates, tests and other data was not affected, and remains available to the public.

The department said in the Monday release that it was working to restore certain online services, but did not go into detail as to which services have been brought back online.

“Divisions and sections within DHSS have been communicating directly with their customers and community partners about any changes to normal day-to-day processes,” the release states. “Wherever possible, they have implemented manual processes to ensure services continue. Most divisions have a temporary web page hosting important documents and providing contact information at dhss.alaska.gov.”

Two sections of DHSS that have turned to manual processes are the unit for conducting background checks, and the vital records section which administers birth, death and marriage certificates.

The state’s Health Care Services Division is continuing to conduct background checks for new employees through a temporary manual process. This manual process can take up to 15 days, according to the DHSS release, but the checks are typically handled in two or three.

“That could change if volume increases,” the release states. “Larger health care providers with multiple requests can notify (the background check unit) they will be sending their applications in batches along with appropriate payment for bulk processing. To help keep turnaround times low, (Health Care Services) has brought on additional staff, authorized overtime, and is diverting all calls to a live person, whenever possible.”

The vital records system within DHSS has also implemented a temporary manual process for fulfilling records requests. This may cause turnaround times to be slower, according to the release.

“Birth, death and marriage certificates are available through the Juneau office,” the release states. “Since the Anchorage office does not have physical access to certificates stored securely in Juneau, they are unable to handle those types of requests.”

Both offices in Juneau and Anchorage are able to process marriage license applications, according to the release.

“I’m sure Alaskans have many questions about this attack, but I ask for their patience and understanding to give our team the time needed to complete the investigation,” Commissioner Adam Crum is quoted as saying in the press release.

A full time frame for full restoration on online services for the department isn’t available yet, according to the release. It won’t be known until the department understands the full scope of the cyberattack and its impacts, according to DHSS.

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