‘Sophisticated group’ behind Alaska cyberattack, agency says

An image of a website that says "The Department of Health and Social Services website is currently unavailable."
A screenshot of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, shows a warning the site is unavailable after a malware attack. (DHSS)

A “highly sophisticated group” known for cyberattacks against governmental and other entities is believed to be behind the attack this spring that targeted the Alaska health department, a spokesperson for the department said.

Clinton Bennett, a department spokesperson, said a cybersecurity firm the department is working with had identified as responsible for the incident “a highly sophisticated group known to conduct complex cyberattacks against organizations that include state governments and health care entities.” But Bennett, in an email, said the department will not comment on the group’s identity, citing an ongoing investigation.

The department said the group had “exploited a vulnerable website and spread from there.” The department said it would not provide additional details on the nature and scope of the attack at this time.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Information released Wednesday provided new details around the timeline of the attack, which the department previously said was identified on May 17. The department now says the first signs of a “potential attack” were identified about two weeks earlier, on May 2, prompting notification of law enforcement and the subsequent retention of outside cybersecurity services to help investigate.

By May 17, the review found that a server supporting the department’s website had been compromised, the department said. The website was taken offline on May 17, the department has said.

The department, on its Facebook page May 17, initially described its website as being offline “due to an unexpected outage.” The next day, it said the site had been the target of a malware attack.

RELATED: Hackers have penetrated multiple Alaska agencies this year. Here’s what we know.

So far, there has been no evidence that protected health or personally identifiable information has been stolen, but the situation remains dynamic and systems continue to be monitored, the department said.

In a statement Wednesday, the department said work continued to “build back resilient systems” and restore online services. A timeline for the full restoration of services remained unclear.

Previous articleLISTEN: Addressing the COVID delta variant spike in Alaska
Next articleSix dead after flightseeing plane crash near Ketchikan, weather hampering recovery