The Tarrant Appraisal District is facing a ransomware attack.

The details

The board of directors held an emergency meeting March 25, where it was revealed the website issues the tax entity announced last week was a cyber attack. The website’s landing page reports email and phone services are still down.

During the meeting, it was announced a group that hacked the website wants $700,000 from the district.

“Our investigation has confirmed that the Tarrant County Appraisal District has been the victim of a criminal ransomware attack,” Chief Appraiser Joe Don Bobbit said in a news release issued March 26. “We have reported this incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Department of Information Resources, and will cooperate with any resulting investigation.”

Bobbitt added there is no evidence there has been a compromise of sensitive or legally protected data, and TAD is working to restore operations.

The background

This is the latest of a litany of technology-related issues with TAD, which sets property appraisals and administers exemptions for tax purposes.

On March 21, the district announced there was a network issue that made systems and data inaccessible.

The security issue came a week after TAD announced a new website after technical issues made the previous website temporarily unavailable on March 14.

"I hope TAD does what is necessary to earn the public's trust," local Realtor Chandler Crouch said. "Concealing information won't help. I hope TAD prioritizes transparency and diligence in their response. They must tackle the issue head-on going above and beyond without shortcuts or makeshift solutions. Investing in thorough restructuring and committed personnel is the only path to ensure we avoid trouble like this in the future."

What else?

In October 2022 there was a data breach, Crouch said, though TAD did not confirm the date. A third-party company was hired in December 2023 to investigate the claim, but the summary provided no findings to indicate the pinpoint of the source or if data was stolen, according to a news release from TAD.

The outlook

After closed session, the board voted and approved the purchase for Microsoft Office 365; SentinelOne software; and hiring a cybersecurity consultant, Improving Enterprises. Office will cost $125,000, SentinelOne will be $70,000 and the consultant is $40,000, which will provide network support, security and system review.

Money to pay for all three will come from the general fund, according to documents from the meeting.

Quote of note

“[The attacking group is] stealing from our taxpayers, and it makes me very sad,” TAD chair Vince Puente Sr. said prior to a prayer to start the meeting. “But evil does exist and good exists as well, and we have hope in that good.”