Local legislators: 'More questions than answers' on security breach

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Local legislators: 'More questions than answers' on security breach

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
Published Monday, October 29, 2012   |  521 Words  |  

Several local legislators want details about the handling of a cyber attack that may have compromised the identities of more than 3.6 million South Carolina taxpayers.

Specifically, they want a clearer explanation of why Gov. Nikki Haley waited more than two weeks before telling the public about the massive security breach.

Haley's deputy chief of staff, Ted Pitts, told legislators during a conference call Monday that federal law forced the governor to wait 16 days before making the announcement.

Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Shannon Erickson, both Republicans from Beaufort, stopped short of criticizing Haley's handling of the breach but said Monday's conference call did little to quell their concerns."We were told Gov. Haley wanted to be as forthcoming as possible but that ... the information that was able to be made public was limited by federal law," Davis said.

Davis said neither Pitts nor others on the call -- who did not take questions but invited emails to Haley's staff --specified which law prevented disclosure of the attacks.

He said he intends to find out, however.

"I believe Gov. Nikki Haley and her staff are honorable people, but as an elected official, you always want to err on the side of getting information to citizens," Davis said.

Erickson also wanted more information: "Sadly, I would say I have more questions than answers," she said.

The foreign hacker or hackers got access to 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit or debit-card numbers from the S.C. Department of Revenue during a series of cyber attacks dating to Aug. 27.

At a press conference preceding the conference call, State Law Enforcement Department chief Mark Keel said federal and international law-enforcement officials requested the delay to protect the ongoing investigation.

State Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, said some of his concerns were allayed after conversations with Keel and others.

"Sometimes the methods used in these investigations can be compromised by certain leaks of information," said Patrick, a former Secret Service agent. "And (disclosing information) might not do all that much to mitigate the exposure of individual taxpayers."

The state is offering affected taxpayers a credit monitoring service. It's uncertain how much it will cost the state.

"Whatever it ends up being, it stands to be rather significant," Patrick said. "It's unfortunate because the taxpayers of South Carolina are ultimately going to have to pay for it. In the meantime, we're going to have to look at what we could have done to prevent this and what we can do to prevent future (cyber attacks)."

Attempts to reach Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, Monday were unsuccessful.

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

VIDEO OF GOV. NIKKI HALEY'S PRESS CONFERENCE MONDAY