LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Most of Arkansas’ two-and-half-million drivers are running into issues renewing their car tags this year. The cause isn’t a car crash but more of a web crash all because of cyber-attack months ago.
In November, a potential data breach started affecting counties using the Rogers-based company Apprentice Information Systems for their web tools or servers.
By the Department of Finance and Administration’s count, 45 counties were impacted. Though by now the business has given each of their customers the green light to continue as usual, the state has its foot on the brakes.
Normally, when renewing vehicle registration online the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) automatically pulls a person’s assessment and property tax information from a county website to verify you’ve paid.
People are instead receiving a message saying they have not assessed because the state website and 45 county assessor’s websites are not on speaking terms, including Pulaski County.
Karla Burnett, Director of Operations at the Pulaski County Assessor’s Office, said this happened at a bad time during the year.
“January is our biggest month for assessing motor vehicles,” Burnett explained.
Burnett claims her office has answered 10,000 calls already this year mostly over the confusion.
“People call us back and say you says I’ve been assessed but the state says I haven’t, but you absolutely have,” Burnett said.
The office has told people to call the Department of Motor Vehicles help desk number at 1-888-389-8336 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to acquire an override. Once the message is read or the call is answered during 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. business hours, the issue should be resolved within 30 minutes.
“The problem is people are on hold for the helpline 20, 30, 45 minutes before they get through,” Burnett stated.
“The bottom line is we’re doing this to protect Arkansans,” DFA spokesperson Scott Hardin said. “It’s tough to tell people, ‘Hey it may be a little bit harder this year to renew your vehicle’, but that’s a lot easier than picking up the phone and saying ‘There has been a hack. Your data is exposed.’”
According to Hardin, each web connection is a possible vulnerability, and while county sites deal with public information, the state has a database of social security numbers, payment methods and other information they can’t risk going in the wrong hands.
So, each county will only reconnect when the state says they are ready, with a goal of before tax season.
“It won’t just be we flip the button, and it goes live again, and we’re reconnected. It’s more likely it will be one by one county,” Hardin said. “We’ll check the box, and then we’ll allow it to go live, and we’ll link back up to it.
The overrides are currently all on the honor system until the county verifies each case through a list given to them by the state. The DFA is looking for a more convenient option that would move those requests to the same website you use to renew your registration.
When Apprentice Information Systems was reached out to for a comment, a consultant handling media inquiries sent a statement.
“In November 2022, a potential cyber security threat was detected by Apprentice Information Systems. An internal and external investigation and assessment has taken place. As it relates to this incident, all Apprentice-managed counties have been brought back online for essential functions and most were restored some time ago.
Apprentice-run systems are safely facilitating operations and interactions with third party, vendors, internal county IT staff and able to transmit data to state agencies. There are no known threats which prohibit normal operations from the Apprentice Information Systems tools or managed services.”Apprentice Information Systems
Any driver seeking to renew their registration can also travel to one of the state’s 134 revenue offices to complete the entire process offline.