White House's bad e-mail luck

First an outage, then cyber suspicions in Europe

A series of unusual events made the executive branch's e-mail system a hot topic last week.

First, the White House system experienced an outage. Then there were reports in Europe of a global cyberattack linked to e-mail messages purported to be from the White House. But then it seemed those messages were part of a hoax that originated in China.

Presidential staff members had no e-mail access for about eight hours Feb. 3 while the unclassified e-mail system in the White House and Executive Office Building ceased operation.

“WH unclassified email went down shortly before 8 AM. Verizon working to solve the problem,” White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a Twitter message that day.

It was the second time in two years that the e-mail system had shut down. The last failure was in January 2009.

The e-mail system was restored by late afternoon Feb. 3. The following day, there was talk at a cybersecurity conference in Munich, Germany, of alleged White House e-mail messages that contained malware.

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague said messages that appeared to be from the White House were sent to several U.K. officials in December 2010. The messages contained links that, if opened, would download a virus onto the user’s computer.

Initially, it was unclear whether the attack came from authentic White House e-mail accounts that had been hacked or from fake e-mail accounts made to resemble White House accounts. Subsequent reports indicated that the messages most likely were faked.

"In late December, a spoof e-mail purporting to be from the White House was sent to a large number of international recipients who were directed to click on a link that then downloaded a variant of Zeus," Hague said, according to an article in the Guardian.

U.K. officials are now saying the cyberattack likely originated in China and the perpetrator used a hoax e-mail address that resembled a White House account, the Guardian article states.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group