AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The personal details of at least 3,000 Texans have been compromised through an organized criminal security breach, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced Monday.
During a House Appropriations Committee hearing, Director Steven McCraw told lawmakers a “Chinese organized crime group based in New York” got ahold of thousands of licenses due to a security lapse. McCraw said the state is working with federal agencies, and an investigation is ongoing.
DPS Lt. Col. Jeff Williams said the unnamed Chinese group did not hack any state websites but took advantage of a security gap which he said has since been fixed.
“There was not a traditional breach in the sense of the word — someone like keyboard hacked their way into the system,” Williams said. “There was a vulnerability that was discovered by these actors. They then exploited that vulnerability.”
The department said the alleged group was able to duplicate the driver’s licenses of at least 3,000 Texans, primarily those of Asian descent.
“We’re not happy at all,” McCraw said. “Controls should have been in place, and this should have never happened.”
The committee chair, Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, hammered into agency leaders over how this happened and why officials have not personally notified the Texans affected.
“So hold on, it could be my driver’s license, and somebody could be going around as Mary Gonzalez right now for two months, and nobody has been notified?” she asked McCraw, to which he replied, “That’s correct.”
DPS confirmed it has been aware of this problem since December. Leaders said they will begin notifying individuals affected this week but noted there could be more Texans impacted.
Although there was not a hack of the state’s system, McCraw said the group was able to find a workaround. He said the crime group was able to get personal information about Texans through the dark web and then used that data to request a replacement ID through the state’s website.
McCraw said Asian Texans were targeted with the goal of finding similar names and “look-alikes” that would aid people from China currently residing in the United States illegally.
The director did not name the crime group but said some individuals have been identified and arrests have been made.