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Data breach in new Illinois online unemployment system exposes private information

Monday, May 18, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Jamie Munks

A glitch in a newly launched state system for processing unemployment claims for gig workers publicly exposed personal information, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security “is aware there was a glitch” in a new system for processing unemployment claims for independent contractors and the self-employed that “made some private information publicly available for a short time, and worked to immediately remedy the situation,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “A full investigation is underway to assess exactly what happened and how many people were impacted. Those who were impacted will be notified.”

Applying for unemployment benefits for the first time? Here are 7 things you need to know. »

It’s the latest in a series of issues for a beleaguered state agency that has struggled to handle a deluge of unemployment claims as the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy.

For months, people have reported issues accessing the online filing system and getting through by phone, which Pritzker has blamed on inadequate technology and agency understaffing.

The new online portal for gig workers to apply for federally funded unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program went live Monday. In his daily coronavirus briefing days earlier, Pritzker highlighted the new system and steps the state had taken to remove roadblocks many Illinois residents have experienced in filing for unemployment benefits.

The state hired outside contractors to build the new system, which Pritzker indicated “has a much higher capability than the existing systems” the agency is using. "So I believe that it will be able to handle the unemployment claims that come in under the PUA system,” he said.

The data breach was first reported by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station.

Republican state Rep. Terri Bryant issued a news release Saturday night about a “possible massive data breach involving the private information of thousands of Illinois unemployment applicants.”

A constituent contacted Bryant on Friday to say she “stumbled upon” personal information for thousands of unemployment applicants on the IDES website, including name, address, Social Security number and unemployment claimant identification information, the lawmaker said in a statement.

Bryant of Murphysboro in southern Illinois, said she “immediately” took the issue to Pritzker’s office and the state employment agency. On Saturday, she sent Pritzker and the employment agency director a letter calling on the governor to “immediately release any information about this potential data breach as soon as possible so those affected can protect the

mselves from identity theft and fraud.”

The department processed more than 1 million initial claims between March 1 and May 2, compared with 78,100 initial claims during the same period in 2019 state officials have said.

 


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