Cybersecurity

New glitch stalls State's visa and passport database

photo of US passport

The State Department’s process for issuing visas and passports overseas has ground to a near halt because of a technical glitch. On June 9, a hardware failure stopped the flow of biometric data submitted from overseas posts to a central database, according to Bureau of Consular Affairs spokesman Niles Cole.

While the bureau can issue emergency passports for urgent travel, the standard process by which a visa is issued after a background check has stalled because biometric data cannot be transmitted to the Consular Consolidated Database, Cole said.

The CCD is a vast system of about a dozen databases that handles visa and passport requests. It was forced offline for three days last July as Consular Affairs upgraded the system’s enterprise management platform. The outage caused a backlog in visa issuances that took about two weeks to clear. Greg Ambrose, the State Department’s former director of consular systems and technology, explained that crash in detail to FCW in October.

Cole emphasized that the CCD’s latest glitch was unrelated to last year’s problems, adding, “the challenges we faced last year have been addressed.”

While IT personnel are trying to fix the hardware glitch, Cole did not have an estimate on when the problem would be resolved. There is no evidence to suggest the technical failure was the result of a cyberattack, according to Consular Affairs.

An update originally posted to the Consular Affairs website on June 12 noted that the glitch affected passport applications accepted overseas on or after May 26. Domestic passport applications are unaffected, the statement said.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs followed up with an update on June 15 saying that overseas passports are now being issued, but that visas are still on hold.

Ambrose, who has been tapped to be the Department of Veterans Affairs’ deputy CIO for product development, could not be reached for comment.

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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