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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fishing free in Washington this weekend due to computer hack

From staff reports

A computer breach that may have exposed the personal information of anglers and hunters in three Northwest states has one very small upside: people can fish in Washington waters without a license through Tuesday.

Not so in Idaho, where online sales of fishing licenses has been suspended, but in-person sales are still in effect.

On Wednesday, several states including Washington and Idaho suspended the sale of fishing and hunting licenses after an outside vendor’s license sales system was hacked.

The Washington Office of Cyber Security said late Thursday that personal information from several million records in Washington, Idaho and Oregon was exposed in what it called a “vulnerability” in the system of Active Network, a Texas-based vendor that processes the licenses.

That office, plus the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Washington State Patrol are among agencies investigating the breach. Initial assessments indicate the information exposed includes names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, birth dates and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

More than 2 million records were exposed, but the cyber security agency says it’s not clear how many individuals are affected because many people buy multiple licenses.

Meantime, anglers will not be required to have licenses or complete a catch record card for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or crab they catch from Thursday through Aug. 30 in any waters open to fishing for those species in Washington state, said Jim Unsworth, agency director.

Licenses are normally required in Washington for all anglers age 15 and older. Tourists booking with lower Columbia River salmon fishing guides can enjoy their trips this weekend without worrying about license requirements, said Bruce Botka, Fish and Wildlife department spokesman.

The department also will not require anglers to have a pass to park at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife water-access sites.

Other rules, such as seasons, size limits, bag limits, and closures, will remain in effect.

“We are as frustrated as our customers over the licensing system being shut down, but we want to make sure anglers can still hit the waters over the next several days,” Unsworth said in a media release.

Hunters will have to wait to buy licenses until the sales system can be restored, Unsworth noted. The agency anticipates having a sales channel available before major hunting seasons – such as archery deer, elk and cougar – begin in September, he said.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will provide updates about license sales on its webpage.

Idaho still requires licenses

Idaho still requires licenses because the state shut down just its online sales of licenses and tags, which accounts for about 20 percent of overall sales. Licenses are still being sold at state Fish and Game offices and at vendor locations throughout the state – a total of 400 sites in Idaho.

Washington and Idaho share the same vendor: Active Network, out of Texas, said Mike Keckler, Idaho Fish and Game spokesman.

Andrea Kirby, corporate communications manager for Active Network at its Dallas headquarters, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the company.

Keckler said the vendor, who’s handled Idaho’s Fish and Game license system since 2007, notified the state of a problem on Tuesday, saying there had been a breach of their system. “So we waited for information to determine whether or not this affected Idaho residents,” he said. “They were unable to tell us that at that point. Last evening, we decided we’d better just shut this thing down until we know.”

Active Network also handles hunting and fishing license for Oregon and Kentucky. “As I understand it, they received an email from someone who said, ‘I’ve found a vulnerability within your system,’ and that’s how it started,” Keckler said.

Online discussion forums are buzzing with the news, with reports centering around a hack of the four states’ sites that reportedly gave the hacker access to personal identifying information for thousands of license or tag holders, with the hacker contacting the sites and waiting to see if they fix the problems.

“What was the person’s motives, we don’t know at this point,” Keckler said. “That’s what they’re trying to figure out.”

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said Thursday they’re confident their online licensing system hasn’t been compromised.

Staff writers Rich Landers, Betsy Russell and Jim Camden contributed to this report.

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