Washington State Department of Licensing System Breached: Impact yet unknown

Personal information of probably millions of licensed professionals stored in the Washington State Department of Licensing may have been exposed after it detected suspicious activity on its online licensing system.

During the week of Jan. 24, 2022, the Department of Licensing (DOL) became aware of suspicious activity involving professional and occupational license data. “We immediately began investigating with the assistance of the Washington Office of Cybersecurity,” DOL said in a statement.

As a precaution, DOL also shut down the Professional Online Licensing and Regulatory Information System (POLARIS) to protect the personal information of professional licensees. “At this time, we have no indication that any other DOL data was affected, such as driver and vehicle licensing information. All other DOL systems are operating normally,” DOL said.

The agency licenses about 40 categories of businesses and professionals, from auctioneers to real estate agents, and it shut down its online platform temporarily after learning of the activity in January, agency spokesperson Christine Anthony said, which was reported by Associated Press (AP). Data stored on the system, which is called POLARIS, could include Social Security numbers, birth dates and driver’s licenses, the report added.

The agency doesn’t yet know whether such data was actually accessed or how many individuals may have been affected. Anthony said the agency has been working with the state Office of Cybersecurity, the state Attorney General’s Office and a third-party cybersecurity firm to understand the scope of the incident, The Seattle Times reported Friday (Feb 4).

A data breach?

DOL is conducting an investigation and analysis to determine the source of the unauthorized activity involving data from the POLARIS system. The investigation is determining who has been impacted so that we may provide further information and assistance to those individuals if needed.

“If our investigation concludes that your personal information has been accessed, DOL will notify you and provide you with further assistance. At this time, we are not aware of any suspicious activity involving other DOL systems, such as the driver and vehicle licensing system (DRIVES). DRIVES is operating normally. We are monitoring all our systems very carefully,” DOL said.

Causing Problems

In the meantime, the shutdown of the POLARIS system is causing problems for some professionals and firms that need to apply for, renew or modify their licensing. The disruption comes at a busy time for real estate agents, appraisers and home inspectors as the state’s real estate market begins to pick up after its typical winter slowdown.

The size of the breach remains unclear. Data from 23 professions and business types licensed by the state is processed via POLARIS, Anthony said. Within those 23 categories, which also include bail bonds agents, funeral directors, home inspectors and notaries, the agency has around 257,000 active licenses in its system, Anthony said. She also added that there are likely more records that may be identified while conducting its investigation.

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