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National Parks’ web sites shut down after breach

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The operations of Glacier and Yellowstone National Park have been stymied since early December when the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) shut down all its Web sites until further notice.

“[The shut-down] was a huge administrative burden,” says Joanne Timmins, chief of administration for Yellowstone. “All of the laws, regulations and policies that govern how we do business in the government are only accessible through the Internet.”

On Dec. 5 a federal judge ordered the DOI to disconnect all information technology systems that house or provide access to Indian trust fund data. A special master appointed by the court to oversee the case had reported the Web sites were not secure in November after contractors easily hacked into the trust fund. In the meantime, day-to-day operations at the department still suffer.

Employees at Glacier and Yellowstone have been processing their payroll by hand rather than online, faxing rather than emailing news releases, and in some cases not paying staff and vendors who are usually paid over the Internet, Timmins says. Approximately 130 Glacier employees and 400 Yellowstone employees have been affected.

“In some cases, vendors actually went to the director of the Park Service in Washington because they hadn’t been paid,” Timmins says.

Employees have been unable to post vacancy announcements, perform computer maintenance, or access other federal agencies with which they do business, Timmins says, all tasks that are normally performed via the Internet.

Glacier National Park employees have experienced similar challenges, says Amy Vanderbilt, public affairs specialist for Glacier.

“In recent years, news releases from Glacier have all been transmitted electronically,” Vanderbilt says. But “the day that Suzanne [Lewis] found out she was going to Yellowstone, I spent hours at the fax machine.”

Payroll officers have processed payroll online for the past two or three years, Vanderbilt says, but that has also changed.

“We reverted back to the manual timecard process,” Vanderbilt says. “One individual did not receive her paycheck because of this.”

The public has also been affected, as many people are already planning their summer vacations, say Vanderbilt and Timmins.

“In recent years, Web sites have become an integral part of that planning,” Vanderbilt says.

Dave Barna, chief of communications for the National Park Service, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that a current proposal to reinstall the department’s Web site will be approved.

“I think when [department representatives] explained it to the court,” he says, “the court said, ‘Gee, that sounds like a good idea.’”

In the meantime, park employees and the public will have to wait. “We’ve not received any further word as to when we will be reinstalled,” Vanderbilt says. “Glacier is eagerly awaiting reconnection.”

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