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Norrell takes on cyber security, state computer breach at state press workshop

Reece Murphy
COLUMBIA – Newly-elected House District 44 Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster took state officials to task Thursday, Jan. 3, for their handling of the aftermath of a massive S.C. Department of Revenue computer breach discovered in October.
Norrell’s statements came during a workshop in Columbia for the state’s press during which the caucus of both Democratic and Republican parties rolled out their legislative agendas for the upcoming 120th South Carolina General Assembly, which starts Tuesday, Jan. 8.
The cyber attack at the center of the issue exposed unencrypted data from tax filings dating back to 1998, including the Social Security numbers of 3.8 million taxpayers and 1.9 million children, employer ID numbers for nearly 700,000 business and almost 400,000 credit and debit card numbers.
Democratic leaders asked Norrell to join them in the state spotlight in order to discuss the caucus’ position on cyber security.
While both Democrats and Republicans agreed protecting state taxpayer’s personal data will be a key issue for this year’s session, Norrell said the state’s offer of free credit monitoring through the Experian credit protection agency was an ineffectual waste of $12 million in taxpayer money.
The state can buy another year of coverage from Experian for $10 million next year.
“Sounds like a lot of money to me – and that’s only for a year of what we call ‘security,’” Norrell said. “But it’s not security, it’s nothing.”
Norrell said under the 2003 federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, all Americans are allowed one credit check a year with an option for state’s to require credit companies to provide several credit checks a year for their residents.
While state officials say Experian will offer South Carolina residents whose information is used up to $1 million in protection, Norrell said that too is covered under the federal Electronic Transfer Act of 1979.
The Act ensures those who lose money in illegal financial transactions are only liable for $50 of the total amount, Norrell said.
“I think we’re doing our citizens a disservice by telling them we’re protecting their security when they’re getting what is already allowed under federal law,” Norrell said.
During an earlier discussion of the issue, Republican Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, the chairman of the committee charged with investigating the cyber break-in, said Gov. Nikki Haley “dropped the ball” on protecting taxpayers’ private information.
“The protection is for a year, but the problem is for a lifetime,” Bryant said. “We’re going to look into what the state can offer for more than a year.
“We’re also asking the business (Experian) how much money have you made with people signing up?” he said.
Republican House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister of Greenville said he believed the response needs to be threefold.
First, he said, state workers must be educated on how to avoid malicious e-mail and other attacks; second, conduct security reviews of all state agencies to prevent future breaches; and third, develop a protocol for addressing breaches.
Several legislators suggested possibly centralizing cyber security between departments.
Democratic House Minority Leader Harry Ott of Calhoun agreed with those but said he didn’t think the problem could be addressed correctly without understanding what exactly happened.
“The problem I have with the whole cyber security mess is it seems to me that nobody stepped up and took responsibility for it,” Ott said. “We’ve asked for a lot of people to come answer questions. Nobody has.”
After the meeting, Norrell said she’s enjoyed getting into the swing of things in Columbia since the election and looks forward to starting her new job in earnest during Tuesday’s first session.
“I love it,” Norrell said of the new experience. “I’ve just noticed that it seems like a lot of people here (in Columbia) are jaded about things. Of course I may end up that way too, but I hope not.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said of serving.

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151