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Second-Largest County’s Appraisal Services Down for Two Weeks

Here's what you need to know about how the appraisal district works and what's affected.

The Dallas Central Appraisal District (DCAD) website has been down for more than two weeks after being hit by a ransomware attack, and there’s still no word on when the site might be available to the public again.

The appraisal district hasn’t shared much information about the investigation into the cyber attack, including who may have been responsible.

Here’s what we know about what information may have been compromised, and possible next steps for the district:

What information do appraisal districts typically have?

Appraisal districts are responsible for setting property values in their counties, which determines how much property tax residents and businesses pay each year.

Doris Koch, executive director of the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts, said districts have owners’ names and addresses and the appraisal district’s value of the property.

Some information that appraisers collect, such as records related to properties of elected officials and law enforcement personnel, is kept confidential, Koch said.

Cheryl Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Central Appraisal District, said the agency has driver’s license information but that it “wasn’t affected” by the attack. The website continued to be down as of 4 p.m. Nov. 23.

How is DCAD responding?

Ransomware attacks use malicious software to prevent victims from using files on their system, according to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Those responsible for such attacks often demand a ransom from the victim in exchange for regaining access to their data.

The FBI has been contacted about this attack, but DCAD does not have a timetable for when its website will be available to the public again, Jordan said.

“Our appraisers are still out in the field; it’s a slow time as it relates to our interaction with the public,” Jordan said. “Our busy time is the summertime when people are protesting appraisals and we’re holding hearings.”

Jordan said the cyber attack did not affect appraisal protests in the district.

In addition to appraising property values and processing protests, DCAD also handles homestead exemptions. She said the office is currently unable to process those exemptions.

“We can collect information,” she said. “We just can’t do anything with them right now.”

Dallas County residents can reach out to the county tax office to get information that was available on the website, Jordan said.

Who manages appraisal districts?

Appraisal districts are separate from the counties they operate in and are managed by a board of directors.

DCAD’s board of directors is made up of representatives from the city of Dallas, Dallas County and Dallas ISD, along with a member who represents suburban school districts and suburban cities.

State laws that govern appraisal districts are listed in Texas Tax Code Chapter 6, which stipulates that if a county’s tax assessor-collector is not on the appraisal district’s board, they serve “as a nonvoting director.”

State tax code requires the Texas comptroller’s office to conduct a study “to measure the performance of each appraisal district in Texas at least once every two years and to publish the results.” The comptroller’s office also provides boards of directors of appraisal districts with training resources to help them understand and execute their duties.

Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the state comptroller’s office, said the agency typically does not help appraisal districts during emergency situations.

“An appraisal district may work with local authorities or emergency management teams, however there is no standard procedure across all appraisal districts,” Lyons said in an email. “In this case, it being a cyber attack, it’s possible the Department of Information Resources or the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency might serve as resources.”

Residents who have a complaint about the chief appraiser of their district can reach out to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.