S.C. legislators plan to ‘dig deep’ into hacking

ashain@thestate.comNovember 10, 2012 

S.C. lawmakers are starting their own examination of how nearly 4.5 million state tax records were stolen from the S.C. Department of Revenue by an overseas computer hacker.

“We’re getting conflicting information and things don’t quite add up,” said state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, co-chairman of a special committee that will probe the breach. “No boundaries are set. We can dig as deep as we can.”

Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, created the committee after a hearing with Revenue Department director James Etter last week did not answer key questions from senators.

Under pressure from senators, Etter revealed for the first time that business records were among the stolen data. But they wanted to know more about why the Revenue Department did not encrypt information and why the state was paying a firm to provide credit-monitoring for consumers.

South Carolina is negotiating a contract that will pay Experian as much as $12 million to offer a year of credit monitoring and lifetime credit-fraud resolution.

But Bryant says Experian stands to make millions from South Carolinians who choose to buy credit monitoring after the free year. “I don’t know why they’re not paying us.”

While promising not to play a “blame game” with the committee, Bryant said he wants to see if anyone should be held responsible for the hacking incident.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said no one could have prevented the theft.

“To announce on the first day you announced the security breach ... no one is to blame? Really?” Bryant said. “We have been told they used (state-approved) credentials. They had to get them somehow.”

Bryant said the committee will first meet the week after Thanksgiving and ask information technology experts to testify. Key players in the theft will be asked to testify at later hearings.

State Sen. William O’Dell, R-Abbeville, will co-chair the panel, which also includes Democrats John Matthews of Orangeburg and Darrell Jackson of Richland.

Jackson said he is going into the hearings with an open mind – and some experience. Jackson said he had his businesses computers checked after a state employee who worked for his insurance company as an independent contractor was arrested this spring for stealing records from the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The employee was fired.

“We just live in a different age now,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Haley said she expects an investigative report will be finished next week.

“Senators certainly can and should ask any questions they have, but we believe they’ll have the answers they need next week when the governor and other officials update taxpayers,” her spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

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