UPDATED: Hackers hit State Department

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:40 p.m. July 13, 2006, with addition information about the State Department’s investigations.

Malicious hackers broke into the State Department networks last month, according to press reports today. The attacks hit State’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and its Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, which handles China and North Korea, the reports state.

The attacks limited Internet access in the department and some of its foreign bureaus for several days, the reports state.

The attacks may have come from China, the reports said. Chinese cyberattackers have stolen data from the Defense Department and other federal networks.

The State Department responds proactively to any attempt to access its unclassified network, said spokesman Justin Higgins.

“This case is a textbook example of our ability to detect and defeat threats before they do any damage,” Higgins said.

State’s investigation into the incidents has yet to find any indication that intruders got access to sensitive information, Higgins said. Even so, the department has asked employees to change passwords and has implemented other procedures to add extra security.

Initial findings of State’s investigations indicate that the hacks affected unclassified computer systems and did not harm any classified systems or sensitive information, said Sean McCormack, the department’s press secretary, in a transcript of State’s daily press briefing July 12.

State officials believe that the attacks started in East Asia and then targeted Washington, D.C., McCormack said. Embassies in East Asia first noticed the attacks, he said.

McCormack declined to give many details of what happened because the attacks are still under investigation. State does not know who the attackers were or whether they were governments or organizations, he said.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team is trying to discover who the attackers are, McCormack said.

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