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Audit finds cybersecurity issues at IDES

Friday, Jul 10, 2020

* Mike Miletich

The Illinois Auditor General has released a two year compliance report for the state’s Department of Employment Security.

While the audit addresses issues with finances and equipment records, the biggest takeaway is weakness in cybersecurity. The report only covers issues within the department from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019. So, it does not include the massive data breach within the IDES unemployment system discovered this May.

Auditor General Frank Mautino wrote IDES is responsible for computer systems with large collections of confidential information: names, addresses, social security numbers and tax information. However, the audit explains the Department failed to classify data to ensure that information would be protected from cyber attacks.

“Department officials indicated due to the nature of the work done by the Department, almost all data sets are classified as high risk,” stated Jim Dahlquist, Administrative Manager for the Auditor General’s office. “However, this documentation could not be provided during the engagement, which resulted in the finding.”

The audit findings are here.

* Meanwhile, IDES’ problems continue

Thousands of people are continuing to call the Illinois Department of Employment Security, hoping for a different result. Tira Clement has been on that merry-go-round since she was laid off in early May. Within days, she applied for unemployment but was rejected. She then applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), but was told to try for regular unemployment instead.

“I kept trying to call in, kept trying to call in, it was always busy; and then the system would just hang up on you, so you could never actually speak to someone regarding the problem,” she explained. Finally, she heard back.

“I get a call on a Saturday morning, from someone and they said that yes, I was eligible for PUA, they didn’t know why the system was doing this. They said that it was a glitch and that they had to put a ticket in with their supervisor,” she explained. She was told that, in about a week, she should be able to apply. But instead, nearly two weeks later, she’s still couldn’t get anywhere.

“We’re calling ourselves the PUA Illinois glitchers. There’s a whole group of us who are in this situation.” Clement says she’ll likely be brought back to work in the fall, but she’s afraid of what will happen in the meantime. “Savings is running out, and I need someone from IDES to look at what’s going on with me and tell me what I’m supposed to be doing. I have no idea, and no one to talk to.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments
  1. - Demoralized - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 11:26 am:

    If IDES is under DoIT then this is a bigger problem statewide since DoIT is responsible for that for consolidated agencies.


  2. - 1st Ward - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    Start protesting outside of Pritzkers house. This will be solved quickly. It seems to be the only way to get the political class’ attention i.e. Hilco demolition and protestors at Lightfoots house.


  3. - Bertram Cates - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 11:42 am:

    Agreed with above. IDES, like any agency, gets burned for IT shortcomings they have little authority themselves to bring into compliance. The Feds noticed this when ERP was implemented without crucial reporting standards and requirements they expect of all UI administrators. So much hierarchy and not enough accountability.


  4. - Give Us Barabbas - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:02 pm:

    There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here in that, the drive to make the system fast and responsive to the crushing demand, and able to communicate rapidly, is in direct conflict with the security goal of protecting the datasets. If you’ve ever used an ATM terminal where it asks you to keep re-entering your PIN on every step of your transactions, once to log in, once after you ask for a transaction, again to confirm if you want a printout or on-screen report, and again to tell it you’re done and want it to release your card… you get a tiny sense of the trouble.

    Add to that; the system has to combine data from several agencies and sources to confirm a client’s status, so the same handshaking has to go on between all of those legacy sources as well. None of those legacy systems were designed for this kind of demand… it was never in anybody’s imagination.

    This can’t be easy to program and patch, even as you’re working on the system. You can’t afford to take it offline and do the major surgery while everyone waits - you have to tweak it while it’s operating, what they IT guys call “Testing in Production”. Which nobody thinks is optimal. JB often refers to this as “building the landing gear while the plane is in the air.” It’s an apt analogy.

    All that said, it’s a programming job, one that needs a lot of expert talent, and nobody I know has any confidence in the contractors that were brought in to handle it by the previous administration.

    Now we’re at a point where maybe we’re half-way across the bridge with these guys, so, do we ignore the sunk costs, fire them now and start over, knowing that is going to add yet more delay and cost… or do we floor it, get over the bridge, get something that’s maybe wobbly but works… and Then fire them and get replacements after.

    I don’t have a computer solution, but I do have an admin idea.

    You’re not going to like it.

    Since the backlog is in confirming everybody’s status to check that they are not scamming undeserved benefits, maybe we could just… I don’t know… automatically mark each applicant since Covid as “confirmed”, and just start cutting checks… and then have a team go back thru the accounts looking for cheaters and thieves, with extreme penalties for any such people they catch. The confirmation checking seems to be the hold-up, so put that part of it off. The scammer rate is, what, maybe three percent of applicants? Think of it as the “leakage” from shoplifting that a department store allows for in retail theft.

    You’re betting on most people being basically good and honest here. Lord knows they need the money yesterday. Is the cost of the losses to scammers any more than the costs to citizens of the computer consultant delays? I’m thinking it may well be a lot less.

    We won’t let the illegitimate awardees escape justice, once we find them later. But isn’t the real priority here right now, the serving of the masses of good, honest citizens struggling to stay fed and housed, that need their relief immediately? Stamp them all “OK” for now, and let’s get to cutting the checks. We’ll catch and jail the cheaters after.


  5. - Donnie Elgin - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:06 pm:

    The hardworking staff of IDES should have set-up regular cybersecurity tests/audits. Confidential info needs to be treated with the highest priority - even the smallest doctor office takes great pains to ensure confidentiality rules and special firewalls are set-ups. Such a shame this is done on the public dime


  6. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:12 pm:

    == Start protesting outside of Pritzkers house==

    Yeah, cause nothing fixes statewide IT failures faster than standing in someone’s front yard and yelling insults at them.


  7. - very old soil - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:22 pm:

    - Give Us Barabbas
    I like your idea. Any legal (Illinois) or federal obstacles?


  8. - 1st Ward - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:27 pm:

    @Lester Holt I never said hurl insults at him. There should be more media attention and political pressure. People are running out of money to pay for basic necessities because of these issues. Protesting outside his house will provide more attention and pressure similar to the Hilco demo and Lightfoot protestors.

    The PUA system has been up for two months now and was touted by the Governor as more efficient with better processing volume than the non-pua UI system. He sold it as there will be little wait with PUA compared to what was going on with non-PUA claims.

    This person and other people like her have been applying and trying to get through since it launched. WTH.


  9. - James - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:34 pm:

    New IDES director appointed today, former Chief of Staff to Sen Harmon. Give her two weeks and let’s see if the customer service improves.


  10. - 1st Ward - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:39 pm:

    @James Agree, she needs time and hopefully turns it around quick. This change was overdue.


  11. - Chatham Resident - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:41 pm:

    == Start protesting outside of Pritzkers house==

    The IDES compliance report covers July 2017-June 2019–so most of this report covers the Rauner administration.

    Maybe the IDES cybersecurity issues were “a feature, not a bug.”


  12. - Give Us Barabbas - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 12:45 pm:

    VOS, it’s probably not practical or legal. Certainly political poison too. Just seems like the right thing to do, though…

    Part of the problem from the very beginning was that unemployment insurance systems were designed from day one as limiting valves on outflowing government aid; they were designed to be highly restrictive, trickling out aid, and set up with a lot of paperwork and waiting around to discourage their use, because the paradigm then was that the poor and jobless are generally undeserving and lazy and would not seek new work if they got enough money to actually live on between jobs. If you were unable to work, you would be expected to go on Social Security disability or something instead.

    Covid is permanently changing the world and on the other side of November I think a lot more people will be interested in giving UBI a try because that underlying unemployment paradigm has been proven to be wrong, factually as well as morally.


  13. - Mr. K. - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 1:31 pm:


    If IDES is under DoIT then this is a bigger problem statewide since DoIT is responsible for that for consolidated agencies.

    DoIT has been a mess for years now — ever since Rauner decided to consolidate IT services.

    It’s a revolving door for the “vertical” managers — a notch on their resume — and the key point is that the managers are managers — not IT people.

    If i hear one more DoIT person say, “LOL, well, I haven’t written any code since 1986 and Fortran” — I’ll pop a gasket.

    It’s not cool to be an IT manager who knows little about actually *doing* IT. They want to make it cool — and chummy — but it’s not cool.


  14. - Marcus - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 1:57 pm:

    The Governor stated he didn’t want Federal help with the IDES system, how’s Deloitte working out for you?


  15. - 1st Ward - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 2:01 pm:

    @Chatham Resident My comments are in reference to Rich’s section in the above post under “Meanwhile, IDES’ problems continue….” Please read the full post before commenting.


  16. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 2:03 pm:

    ===The Governor stated he didn’t want Federal help with the IDES system===

    You got a link? Because I don’t remember that.


  17. - Birdseed - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 2:08 pm:

    https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/04/16/pritzker-on-illinois-turning-down-feds-help-with-unemployment-system-private-sector-does-some-things-better/


  18. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 2:09 pm:

    Birdseed, you gotta read beyond the headline and the CBS 2 hype.

    “USDOL is also offering third-party assistance to states with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. What states requested from USDOL and what would have been very helpful is a uniform system to provide benefits that all states can use. Instead, the federal government left each state to build its own system from the ground up. Prior to the third-party assistance offer from USDOL, IDES had already partnered with Deloitte to get this program up and running as soon as possible.”


  19. - Iris - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 3:54 pm:

    Any idea why the administration chose to go with Deloitte when it was Accenture that built the IBIS system?


  20. - Frank talks - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 4:03 pm:

    Good luck Ms. Richards not sure that’s a job anyone would want.


  21. - mrp - Wednesday, Jul 15, 20 @ 11:49 am:

    What Give Us Barabbas said.


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