Alaskans can now apply for their 2019 Permanent Fund dividend checks online without fear of encountering a New Year’s Day glitch which caused some users’ personal data to be displayed to other people in the system.

Anne Weske, the director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division, said Wednesday that there was no malicious intent or “hack” in the issue, which affected fewer than 100 people who tried to apply for a dividend on Jan. 1 before administrators shut the online filing system down for nearly a week. It came back online Monday evening, with more than 34,000 people filing by Wednesday afternoon.

“We really were able to whittle it down to an issue, an ‘imperfect storm’ of a load issue and some performance issues,” Weske said.

Weske attributed the problem to “data ghosting” which occurred during the initial rush of early filers. Under certain circumstances on Jan. 1, some people who hit the “back” button in their Web browsers during the application process saw information from other people who were also in the system at the same time.

One of the users in the system on Tuesday was Weske, who said she didn’t see anyone else’s information during the application process because she never hit the “back” button.

A message displayed on the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division's website on Jan. 1, 2019 says dividend applications are barred due to

Many people who saw other users’ data reached out to them directly, she said. The state is also reaching out to those whose information was seen by other people.

“It’s quite unlikely that (personal data from) many people were even publicly seen,” Weske said. “There was a small number that were identified in the logs, and we’ll be contacting them and making sure they have all the information they need.”

During the downtime, state employees and contractors have been testing and modifying the system, ensuring that it can process applications with less data load than it saw on Jan. 1.

“A lot of the work our crews were doing last week was making it do the exact same thing while taking up less room,” Weske said. “The testing was really extensive, staggered testing, trying to replicate what (user volumes) we would see in the system times a little bit more.”

Since the system was brought back online, Weske said, no other users have reported personal information being compromised in the application system. Some people using Samsung smartphones have reported an unrelated problem when entering their Social Security numbers.

“There’s a known issue where they can start inputting random numbers,” she said.

Division staff plan to conduct more extensive load testing on the filing system in the future, but Weske said there are no plans to switch application systems from the one currently in use.

Tuesday saw the division’s highest-ever one-day tally of dividend filings – about 25,000 – according to Weske, who thanked applicants for bearing with the state during the system shutdown.

“For the most part this was just an anomaly,” she said. “I know our crew was grateful for the patience Alaskans had in letting us test things out to make sure things were resolved fully.”

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