5 Things to Know in Alaska Politics: It’s not your imagination: Cyber crimes are higher in Alaska | Local News | #phishing | #scams

As the nation goes, so goes Alaska?

It certainly seems that way, as the state of Alaska was plagued by a cybersecurity attack this week that disabled numerous online services at its largest department.

The Alaska hack came on the cyber heels of a pipeline ransomware attack that idled the nation’s largest conduit for gasoline and diesel.

Now a pair of unrelated studies identifies e-crimes as a big problem for Alaskans. As if nobody knew.

There’s more in “5 Things to Know,” including U.S. Rep. Don Young’s call for an Arctic ambassador and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s concern that the military was besmirched.


Alaska food stamps, assistance uninterrupted by cyberattack

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reports that food stamps, energy assistance, healthcare and other benefits were not impacted by a cybersecurity attack that led to the shutdown of its website.

“At this time, recipient benefits and provider payments are being processed,” said Clinton Bennett, DHSS communications director. “However, this could change. 

“As the investigation continues some services may be taken offline,” Bennett said.

If benefits or payments systems are taken offline, recipients will be informed and DHSS will have workaround plans to minimize the impact.

Alaskans applying for benefits should not be directly affected either.

“We are refining our Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan to meet those circumstances, if they should occur,” Bennett said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether personal information was stolen.

They also are trying to learn the extent of the hack of DHSS systems that include background checks and vital records.

DHSS does not have a motive or know who is behind the cyber intrusion.

“There are no details about who initiated the attack, why they targeted DHSS, whether this attack is related to any other recent attacks, or how long the website may be down,” Bennett said.


Hang on to your wallets

If it seems like Alaska gets targeted by hackers more often than other states, it’s not your imagination. A pair of new studies concludes that Alaskans are a prime target for e-crimes. 

Alaska is the third-most targeted state for cyber crime, reports CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity tech company.

An analysis by CrowdStrike using FBI data focused on individuals and not large entities, such as the state of Alaska, where the court system, healthcare and social services were hacked in the last month.

Alaskans lost more than $7 million last year due to e-crimes, CrowdStrike reports.

“In 2020, while the American public was focused on protecting our families from a global pandemic and helping others in need, cyber criminals took advantage of an opportunity to profit from our dependence on technology to go on an Internet crime spree,” according to the FBI.

Based on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, victim losses from e-crimes nationwide totaled more than $13 billion over the last five years.

In 2020, Alaska had the third-highest rate of e-crimes, with 310 victims per 100,000 residents, according to the CrowdStrike analysis.

In a separate analysis by CardConnect, the company ranked Alaska No. 1 for cyber crime.

The company looked at credit card fraud, identity theft, personal data breaches and phishing scams.

“Despite boasting one of the nation’s smallest populations, Alaskans face the biggest risk of falling victim to online fraud of any state in the United States,” CardConnect said about its 2020 findings. 

“Out of a possible worst-case scenario score of 200, Alaska came in at 195 on the risk index.”


Rep. Don Young calls for Arctic Affairs ambassador

U.S. Rep. Don Young is sponsoring legislation that would establish an Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.

The ambassador would represent the U.S. at the Arctic Council and serve as chair during the United States’ next term. 

The legislation was introduced as Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Arctic Council nations in Iceland for the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, where Russia will assume the council chair for the next two years. 

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski attended that meeting, saying Friday that it is important “to keep the Arctic as a zone of peace and a place of good cooperation.”

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for the eight Arctic states: the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

“The United States is an Arctic nation because of Alaska, and it is more important than ever that the United States is well-positioned to maintain security and stability in the region,” Young said. 

“Now more than ever, America needs to formalize its renewed diplomatic focus on the Arctic to engage with our near peer adversaries, including Russia and China, who are jockeying for future strategic advantages in a changing Arctic.”


Sen. Sullivan calls extremism claim ‘irresponsible’

Christine Wormuth told senators on the Armed Services Committee that she will prioritize weapons readiness against cyber threats, if confirmed as Secretary of the Army.

“I am greatly concerned by the threats that we face in the cyber domain,” she said.

The Army is focused on updating weapons and equipment, some of which are decades old, according to Roll Call. Senators emphasized that weapons need to withstand cyber threats.

Wormuth, a former Pentagon policy chief, would be the first woman to lead the largest U.S. military service.

“The Army has not completely modernized itself in over 40 years,” she said.

Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and Armed Services Committee member, earlier questioned Wormuth about allegations of extremism in the military. 

“Extremism, racism, of course we don’t want that in the ranks at all,” Sullivan told Wormuth. 

But he said that data is needed to support claims of extremism and racism within the military.

“The vast majority of soldiers are tolerant and inclusive in terms of working with their peers,” Wormuth said in response.

“I do think it would be useful to have additional data,” she said, adding that reports she has seen indicate there are some cases or pockets of racism and institutional barriers to promotion.

“This notion of extremism in the military, which is thrown about as if we know the numbers … I think that’s irresponsible,” Sullivan said.

“I’ve asked the military for data, and I want data before we besmirch the entire military,” Sullivan said. 


Employment data shows year of job loss

March employment data gives a view of Alaska in recovery mode after a year of business closings and slowdowns from Covid-19.

Here’s a look at the numbers, as reported May 20 by Mark Edwards of Northrim Bank writing for  “Alaskanomics.”  

In March 2021, there were 21,900 fewer jobs compared to March 2020, based on Alaska Department of Labor reports.

Leisure and hospitality jobs were down 23% year over year.Oil and gas jobs fell by 36%.Jobs in transportation, warehousing and utilities dropped 10% year over year. Professional and business services declined by 9%. And the only sector to grow year over year? State government.

A 1% increase — or 200 jobs — was attributed to hiring people to conduct contact tracing, as it related to the pandemic.

Edwards noted that Alaska per capita income rose by more than 3%, and housing prices and sales increased.  

“This was only possible because billions of dollars in federal stimulus money reached Alaska and helped support businesses and individuals through the most challenging times,” he said.

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