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Md. health department employees told to stay off computers after cyberattack

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Maryland Department of Health officials told workers not to use state-issued computers Monday and the agency’s servers remained offline as the department grappled with the effects of a cyberattack over the weekend.

It was not clear to what extent the department was functioning during a time when the emergence of the omicron variant has renewed calls for mitigation against the potential threat that version of the coronavirus could pose. Officials were tight-lipped about how the cyberattack unfolded and affected its operations.

“There is no evidence at this time that any data have been compromised,” department spokesman Andy Owen said in an email Monday. He declined to share information beyond a statement he issued Sunday that the state Security Operations Center was investigating a network security incident. The statement said officials were coordinating with federal and state law enforcement.

Department officials told workers, in a bulletin obtained by The Washington Post, to “immediately stop use of [Maryland Department of Health]-issued laptops and desktop computers” until further notice. The agency would remain open, and employees would “be assigned a work location based on where they are able to perform work functions.”

Maryland announces first three cases of omicron variant in the greater Washington region

The bulletin said that “multiple” department-hosted systems had been affected, and the incident “appears to have affected” some of the agency’s partners, including local health departments. State health employees communicate and operate partly on Google Workspace, and employees were told they could access the platform from non-state-issued devices.

The Department of Health’s webpage on Monday remained rerouted to the state’s flagship webpage, maryland.gov. Dozens of health department services and resources were unavailable, including pages that invited Maryland residents to apply for Medicaid, get data on local nursing home safety and order free at-home testing for sexually transmitted infections.

By Monday evening, the agency tweeted that its website “is again operational. Thank you for your patience while we worked to restore it.”

Maryland health officials on Friday announced that three cases of omicron had been detected in the Baltimore metro area, the first evidence that the new coronavirus variant has reached the Washington region.

“Staff whose assigned work can be completed via telework may be approved by their manager to do so, provided the staff are willing to use their personal laptop/desktop, Internet access, and other devices,” the bulletin said. It cautioned employees that personal computers were not to be used to save or store personal health information.

Employees not willing or able to use their personal devices were instructed to “report to the workplace.”

As for when the situation was likely to be resolved, the bulletin said the “situation is currently still under investigation” and that “information will be updated on a daily basis.”

Dan Diamond contributed to this report.

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