Cybersecurity

State Department shuts down unclassified email network

The State Department has shut down its unclassified email network to bolster security after a reported cyberattack in early October, according to multiple media reports. The department detected "activity of concern" in parts of its unclassified email system, but classified systems were not affected, a spokesperson said.

The State Department breach reportedly occurred around the same time as a similar attack on the White House's unclassified computer network. ABC News reported that it is believed the two incidents are related, citing the comments of a senior State Department official. When the White House went public about its breach, spokesman Josh Earnest used the same phrase -- "activity of concern" -- to describe it.

Over the weekend, the State Department conducted a security upgrade to its main unclassified network in response to the breach. That maintenance has affected "some of our unclassified email traffic and our access to public websites from our main unclassified system," the spokesperson said, adding, "We expect our systems to be up and running shortly." The Associated Press reported that the maintenance would be finished Nov. 17 or 18.

At least one member of Congress wants the State Department to provide extensive details on the cyberattack, including its duration, how many employees were affected and how the department responded.

On Nov. 17, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a detailed report on the breach by Jan. 5.

"The State Department's knowledge, information and experience in combating data breaches will be helpful as Congress examines federal cybersecurity laws and any necessary improvements to protect sensitive consumer and government financial information," Cummings wrote in the letter.

The disruption of the department's unclassified email system follows another high-profile IT incident in July, when a major glitch temporarily forced officials to take the system that processes U.S. visa and passport requests off-line.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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