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Thousands of Pennsylvania Records Are Mistakenly Deleted

Human error on Jan. 3 resulted in the loss of thousands of files from 77 computer system servers for the Pennsylvania State Police and State Employees’ Retirement System. Some of the data has yet to be recovered.

Human error caused the loss of thousands of records from at least two Pennsylvania state agencies stored on the state’s computer system servers.

Some of the data from the Pennsylvania State Police and State Employee’ Retirement System has yet to be recovered, Shapiro Administration officials have confirmed.

At least one state employee was fired and other personnel changes were made in the governor’s Office of Information Technology as a result of the January 3 incident involving 77 computer system servers, according to multiple sources.

The Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan, said his agency “took immediate action internally to address this incident and is conducting a thorough review and update of information technology policies, procedures, processes, and controls to prevent this kind of human error from happening again.”

He said the “limited data loss occurred in the course of performing routine service maintenance.”

The data that was lost affecting the state police was an application used to manage and log evidence submissions. But Egan said “all the physical evidence tracked and cataloged by the [state police] remains secure and was never endangered.”

State police “will continue to evaluate whether there has been any impact on the management of records for the Bureau of Forensic Services,” said state police spokesman Myles Snyder. He said one of two computer systems used to track evidence was back on line as of January 15 and accepting new evidence submissions.

Snyder said the state police and the Office of Administration are continuing to work to restore the other system and are operating on a temporary system to track and receive evidence to ensure police investigations can continue without disruption.

The impact on the state employees’ pension system involved the login that members use to access their pension information.

Members of the pension system who try to log in to their accounts are met with a note that informs them the data center servers “were impacted by an outage on 1/3/24.” It requires members to verify their identity and create a new four-digit PIN.

According to SERS spokeswoman Pam Hile, the affected system was a secondary system that provides members with snapshot-in-time pension benefit data where they can see a benefit summary, annual statements, tax documents, and unofficial pension benefit estimates.

“A team of [ Office of Administration] and SERS tech staff worked to identify the data that could be retrieved and rebuilt and what was impacted,” Hile said. “It is important to note that as a secondary system, no pension data has been lost and we have been notified that there was no cyber-attack or hacking.”

A Jan. 12 statement on SERS website indicated any member-calculated pension estimates saved in their accounts was lost. Hile said smaller employers who are registered users of the system also were notified about partially entered or unposted batches of data that would have to be re-entered.

Senate Republican leaders confirmed they had been notified via email about a week ago about the problem but did not have details about the extent of the issue.

“We continue to seek out additional information from the administration,” said spokeswoman Kate Flessner.

District attorneys in at least two counties said they were advised nearly two weeks ago about the PSP data deletion but downplayed the significance of any problem it created for them.

Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said they have a paper trail of the data stored on the state’s server.

“So we do it the old-fashioned way,” he said.

Cumberland County District Attorney Sean McCormack said, “I am aware of the situation concerning the servers at the state and how it has affected [state police’s forensics] lab. Its affect (sic) on Cumberland County is mitigated by the fact that we have our own forensic lab. We certainly continue to monitor the situation closely as the state works to fix the problem.”

IT professionals with familiarity of the state’s protocols surrounding data management said any deletion of data without being backed up suggests there was likely a breakdown – more likely a series of breakdowns – of controls and separation of duties that are in place to guard against such an occurrence.

“Anytime you have some kind of outage where you have data missing, that’s a major problem particularly if you can’t recover it,” one of them said.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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