By Larry Greenemeier
July 13, 2006
The State Department confirmed that attacks last month on some of its
computer systems originated in the East Asia-Pacific region, targeting
U.S. embassies there, and worked their way toward State's headquarters in
Washington. The department hasn't indicated whether it has a specific
suspect (or suspects) in mind, but State says it's working with Carnegie
Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team and the FBI on an
The systems affected by the hack were unclassified computer systems, State
Department spokesman Sean McCormack said during a press briefing
Wednesday. "There is an ongoing forensic investigation to examine exactly
what happened and to try to learn from that, but the initial findings of
the investigation are that there was no compromise of sensitive U.S.
The State Department has taken some precautionary steps, including
changing some passwords. "Some of the Internet service to some people in
some of our embassies and some people here was affected," McCormack said
of the attack. "But the system as a whole was up and running throughout
this entire time." McCormack added that the compromise was not the result
of problems with the department's cyber security policies.
The State Department has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to IT
security. In March, the White House Office of Management and Budget's
annual federal government computer security report card gave the State
Department an F grade for fiscal 2005, even worse that its D+ grade for
fiscal 2004. The overall grade given to all 24 federal agencies evaluated
was a D+.
Reports of this hack into State Department IT systems has raised concerns
about data security in the federal government to a whole new level. The
federal government has in recent months been plagued by a series of laptop
thefts at the Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments, Federal Trade
Commission, and Internal Revenue Service. But these losses would pale in
comparison to a network breach that allowed an attacker to access
directories with user-privilege information and plant rootkits and other
malicious code to facilitate future attacks.
Word of these June attacks on the State Department's systems comes at a
particularly delicate time for the department, which has been involved in
critical diplomatic negotiations with North Korea following that country's
testing of nuclear missiles earlier this month.
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