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Hackers claim massive data heist of Florida Health Department system

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health is responding to what they’ve called a “possible cyber incident.”

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The Department holds vital records like birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates.

A ransomware group is claiming it hacked the Florida Department of Health and is holding data until the agency pays whatever the ransom is.

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Now, the agency’s online system is shut down, impacting state offices to funeral homes.

It’s affected families getting their loved ones’ death certificates and has delayed families from claiming benefits like life insurance.

“They’re already stressed out because they just lost their mom, their dad, their sibling. And they just can’t have an end to this because they’re waiting for that death certificate,” said Heather Norton, funeral director at Compass Pointe Funeral Services in Orlando.

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Norton has spoken to more than a dozen families in the past days that are waiting hopelessly to get their loved one’s death certificate.

It’s the required documentation for families to claim benefits, access financial accounts and start the probate process.

Norton says since June 26th, every funeral home in the state of Florida not been able to access the Florida Department of Health’s online Vital Statistics system. It’s used to issue death certificates in addition to birth certificates.

Now, Norton says funeral homes have been forced to go back to what she calls the “old school way.”

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“We have to mail it to Tallahassee for them to input it into the system. And they didn’t give us a timeline on how long it’s going to take for those families to get those death certificates,” Norton said.

She says there’s been no communication on why the online system is down and when the problem will be resolved.

But the Florida Department of Health has told outlets it’s a “temporary outage” after a “possible cyber incident.”

Norton along with several other funeral home directors we spoke to across Central Florida say they are concerned on what information could now be out there from this possible breach, particularly with the amount of sensitive information listed on death certificates.

“It’s got a lot of personal information, date of birth, social security, where they were born, all the information. That would be a security question for like a bank or credit cards. I mean, even, your retirement fund,” Norton said. “Our goal is to protect the deceased and the family members. But we can’t do that now because their information possibly is out there.”

The Florida Department of Health provided the following statement after the original story aired:

“The Florida Department of Health (Department) is working diligently to resolve the temporary outage impacting the online Vital Statistics system. To facilitate continued operations of death certificates, the Department has worked closely with funeral homes and health care facilities to implement offline procedures during this period. These instructions have been provided to all licensed funeral directors statewide. In addition, all county health departments have been provided the necessary resources to issue death certificates offline during this time.

We also request the support from health care facilities and physicians to expedite hand-signed death certificates. This collaboration across all partners will assist families in navigating difficult times with minimal disruption.

“We are working around the clock to restore the online Vital Statistics system,” said State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo. “The majority of Department operations and services remain operational and unchanged.”

County health departments remain able to issue copies of birth certificates for individuals born before June 28, 2024. For births on or after this date, the Department is working with hospitals to continue manual processing of birth certificates. For families seeking assistance, all county health departments are prepared to provide guidance and support. Locate your local county health department at: FloridaHealth.gov. For questions and concerns regarding Vital Statistics services, please call 1-866-295-5902.”

The Florida Department of Health did not say whether the department was victim to a ransomware attack nor whether Floridians’ sensitive records are compromised from the alleged attack.

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