Lawmakers press State, Commerce on cyber break-ins

The chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee confronted a State Department official about whether the department had responded appropriately to a computer system intrusion last year.

The chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee confronted a State Department official about whether the department had responded appropriately to a computer system intrusion last year.

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology told Donald Reid, State’s senior coordinator for security infrastructure, at a hearing yesterday that State had not correctly balanced business continuity and national security considerations in the face of the incident.

“I am not satisfied that the State Department has given proper weight to protecting national security,” Langevin said.

The hacking event, the details of which were revealed for the first time at yesterday’s hearing, occurred in May 2006, when a State employee opened a Microsoft Word e-mail attachment embedded malicious code. The code established backdoor communications outside the department’s network.

Lawmakers also questioned Dave Jarrell, manager of the critical infrastructure protection program at the Commerce Department, about an intrusion into that department’s computer system that it discovered in July 2006. That incident led to the quarantining of several Commerce computers and to the implementation of enhanced cybersecurity protocols. Jarrell also indicated that a forensic inspection could not determine the date of the original penetration.

The State incident “led to the discovery of a previously unknown operating system vulnerability for which no security patch existed,” Reid said. As a result, a State task force “developed a temporary wrapper that would protect systems from being exploited further, but would not fix the vulnerability.”

Langevin criticized State for taking the temporary-wrapper approach, saying it was not prescribed for the threat presented, and for not more aggressively disconnecting department computers from the Internet.

Reid replied that a temporary fix was necessary because “it takes Microsoft two months or longer to issue a new security patch.”

Reid also defended the decision not to take State computers off-line saying, “There is a business case to be made here. Our consular offices issue passports and visas. If you take the system off-line, all this comes to screeching halt. We felt the risks were worth it.”

To this Langevin replied, “I am not satisfied you have erred on the side of protecting national security.”

Langevin also criticized State for failing to complete an inventory of its computer systems, citing a departmental inspector general report saying the job was only half done. Langevin suggested information could be compromised through relationships between classified and unclassified systems.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the IG’s conclusions,” Reid responded. “We are confident that hackers don’t have a route into our classified networks.”

But Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues at the Government Accountability Office, who testified at the same hearing, confirmed that “the Department of State does not have a complete inventory” of its cyber assets and that unknown interconnections between classified and unclassified networks “could raise significant security violations.”

With regard to the Commerce hacking event, Langevin expressed concern that the department “has no idea how long the attackers were actually inside their systems” before it discovered the intrusion. He added, “though Commerce tells us that data was not lost, data can easily be copied and sent outside through the Internet.”

Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) said the Commerce break-in was troubling because the extent of the information compromised is still unknown and “it may never been known.“

To this Jarrell replied that there were no known information losses. He added that the department was planning on implementing two-factor authentication for access to systems and was in the process of changing protocols for remote access.

“We are hoping to have done this fiscal year,” he said.

Buxbaum is a freelancer writer in Bethesda, Md.


X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.