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HomeBusinessExclusive: B.C. Legislature tech budget balloons in the wake of November’s mysterious cyberattack

Exclusive: B.C. Legislature tech budget balloons in the wake of November’s mysterious cyberattack

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Bob Mackin

The B.C. Legislature is still struggling to overcome last November’s mysterious cyberattack that crippled networks at the Parliament Buildings and MLAs’ offices around the province.

The seat of government was hacked Nov. 10, the website taken down and then replaced with an image that claimed it was subject to “unscheduled maintenance.” The Clerk’s office finally admitted on Nov. 19 that an incident occurred. To this day, both Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and the all-party committee that oversees the Legislature refuse to release the report about what went wrong.

What the B.C. Legislature website looked like on Nov. 13 (Leg.BC.ca)

The Legislature remains a secretive fortress, more than two years after NDP Government House Leader Mike Farnworth’s promise to add the $86 million-a-year institution to the freedom of information law.

On July 8, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted to spend another $750,000 on the information technology department, including security, in the second quarter. That is in addition to the $5.6 million allotted in February’s budget — a whopping $2.6 million increase from 2020-21 when the pandemic forced a shift to videoconferencing.

Only one member of the committee, BC Liberal house leader Peter Milobar, expressed discontent with the spiralling costs, because constituency office network outages persist.

“Several in a day and then stable for awhile and then not,” Milobar said in the meeting.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it, on behalf of our caucus, anyways. Within our own ability to service our constituents has been eight months of complete frustration that seems to not be getting any better — if anything, getting worse.”

The Legislature’s chief information officer Andrew Spence said he recognized the “ongoing challenges we continue to face.”

BC Liberal house leader Peter Milobar (BC Liberals)

“We’re really focused on these priorities to help address that technical debt that exists within our network and infrastructure, and really focusing here in Q2 to try and address those concerns by making sure we have people onsite addressing these issues and proactively working to address this,” said the April-hired Spence.

The IT Roadmap Update briefing note made vague, euphemism-heavy references to last November’s cyberincident.

“While aligned with the strategic direction, the unplanned shift to the Microsoft cloud productivity suite in November 2020 was immediate, and the learning curve and user support left residual issues,” the note said.

The briefing note said a priority response team formed in January, using external resources through the government’s Office of the Chief Information Officer. It was “focused on completing several in-flight priorities, including device deployments, constituency office fit-ups, and network instability challenges. A security project workstream was also initiated in March 2021 to address priority findings, with considerable progress made in Q1.”

Spence said his department needed $279,000 more for client service delivery and constituency office support, $278,000 for infrastructure currency and cybersecurity and $193,000 for the priority response team.

“The increased digital footprint has expanded the cybersecurity surface that must be defended, with controls, processes, and standards that need to be defined, implemented, and maintained,” the briefing note said.

NDP MLAs apologized to constituents after the November hack (Twitter)

The only other department that blew its budget so significantly was the NDP government caucus, which overspent its budget by $1.4 million in a year that it won a snap election. The Greens and BC Liberals both came in under budget.

Farnworth promised in February 2019 that the Legislature would be added to the 1993-written FOI law, but has failed to deliver so far.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ombudsperson and Merit Commissioner pleaded for more transparency and accountability after then-Speaker Darryl Plecas exposed corruption in the offices of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

Both retired in disgrace. James was charged with breach of trust and fraud.

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