A computer programmer applying for unemployment on Arkansas’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program discovered a vulnerability in the system that exposed the Social Security numbers, bank account and routing numbers and other sensitive information of some 30,000 applicants. Anyone with basic computer knowledge could have accessed personal information for malicious purposes.
Alarmed, the computer programmer called the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services Friday morning and was told by an operator that there was no one available who could talk to him. He then tried someone at the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division, who told the programmer he would find the person he needed to talk with to fix the situation. The programmer later called the Arkansas Times for advice on whom to call. The Times alerted the Division of Workforce Services to the issue at 4:30 p.m. Soon after a message appeared on the website that said, “The site is currently under maintenance.”
In exploring the website, the computer programmer determined that by simply removing part of the site’s URL, he could access the administrative portal of the site, where he had the option of editing the personal information of applicants, including bank account numbers. From the admin portal, he viewed the page’s source code and saw that the site was using an API (application programming interface) to connect with a database. That API was also left unencrypted, and he could access all of the applicants’ raw data, included Social Security numbers and banking information.
In about two minutes, the computer programmer described the vulnerability to another programmer the Arkansas Times engaged, who then used the information to easily enter the system. To access the sensitive information, the second programmer only needed to create an account, not actually apply for assistance.
Another person who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance told the Times on Friday that when he applied for assistance, submitted his documentation and reached a “review” page, he saw the documentation for another applicant. He said it took three days for the state to remove the other applicant’s information. Then he said documentation for yet another applicant appeared. “It took two days and repeated phone calls to get the second name off,” he said. “Then the next day was when they erased it all and told us we had to reapply.”