COLUMBIA — By midday Monday, almost a half-million South Carolinians had jammed phone lines seeking credit protection from the massive data breach the state announced Friday afternoon.
About 300 telephone responders were put on duty to help the public sign up for protection after the breach that exposed 3.6 million Social Security numbers on file with the state revenue department.
Gov. Nikki Haley and other officials said the state’s Department of Revenue had fallen victim to an international computer hacker. South Carolinians who had paid taxes since 1998 were urged to call an 866 telephone number and visit a Web site to sign up for credit protection at the taxpayers’ expense.
Since Friday’s announcement, there have at least 455,000 calls to a help center and 154,000 sign-ups for protection, officials said Monday morning. The average waiting time to get through is 12 minutes, Haley said. She emphasized that taxpayers have until the end of January to avail themselves of the service.
“If you have not called, you don’t have to call today, you don’t have to call tomorrow. You have until end of January of 2013 to call, and it will be retroactive,” she said during a news conference. “My friends at the news stations went and caused somewhat of a panic, and we had a lot of people worried if they didn’t get their call in they would not be able to handle that.”
The state Department of Revenue signed a contract with security company Mandiant on Oct. 12. Haley said she could not disclose the estimated expense for the measure, because officials were still negotiating a wholesale rate.
Also on Monday, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel defended waiting more than two weeks to let the public know of the security breach.
“By allowing us the time that we had to conduct our investigation, we believe that this information is better protected than it would have been otherwise,” Keel said. “I personally notified the governor’s office Friday morning early that we were ready to go forward with the public release.”
Haley said no one is facing disciplinary actions for the breach.
“This wasn’t an issue where anyone in the agency could have avoided it,” she said. “This is a situation (in which) a sophisticated, intelligent criminal got into a database, that is unbelievably creative on how he did it, and now we’re having to deal with that.”
Keel refused to answer questions about the hacker and would not say whether the person had been identified or caught.
“It is a very sensitive, ongoing investigation,” he said. “We obviously want to bring someone to justice, and it would be totally inappropriate to comment any further about the investigation at this time.”
In addition to credit monitoring and fraud resolution, the state will provide $1 million in theft insurance coverage to cover the cost of additional investigations for anyone who is affected by the breach.
Anyone who paid taxes in South Carolina as early as 1998 may go to the Web site www.protectmyid.com/scdor to register for protection and type in SCDOR123, or call (866) 578-5422.