By Libby Quaid
AP FOOD AND FARM WRITER
June 21, 2006
WASHINGTON -- A hacker broke into the Agriculture Department's
computer system and may have obtained names, Social Security numbers
and photos of 26,000 Washington-area employees and contractors, the
department said Wednesday.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the department will provide
free credit monitoring for one year to anyone who might have been
The break-in happened during the first weekend in June, the department
said. Technology staff learned of the breach on June 5 and told
Johanns the following day but believed personal information was
protected by security software, the department said.
However, on further analysis, staff concluded that data on current or
former employees might have been accessed and informed Johanns on
Wednesday, according to the department.
The department said it notified law enforcement agencies. Its
inspector general is investigating the break-in.
The information was used for staff or contractor badges in Washington
and the surrounding area, spokeswoman Terri Teuber said. Those who
might have been affected were notified by e-mail and were being sent
People who believe they may be affected by the data breach can go to
http://www.firstgov.gov for more information. The Agriculture
Department has a toll-free number to call for information about the
incident or about consumer-identity protections. The number,
1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636), is a call center that operates from 8
a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT Monday through Saturday.
Other federal departments have acknowledged recently that private
information had been compromised.
As many as 26.5 million people may have been affected by the theft of
a laptop computer containing Veterans Affairs information including
Social Security numbers and birth dates. The computer was taken from
the home of a VA employee, and officials waited nearly three weeks
before notifying veterans on May 22 of the theft.
Earlier this month, the Health and Human Services Department
discovered that personal information for nearly 17,000 Medicare
beneficiaries may have been compromised when an insurance company
employee called up the data through a hotel computer and then failed
to delete the file.
Social Security numbers and other information for nearly 1,500 people
working for the National Nuclear Security Administration may have been
compromised when a hacker gained entry to an Energy Department
computer system last fall. Officials said June 12 they had learned
only recently of the breach.
On the Net: Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.gov
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