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Cummings Requests Additional Information on Cyber-Attack at State Department

Nov 17, 2014
Press Release

Washington, D.C.—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting information about reports of a recent cyber-attack against the State Department that forced technicians to shut down the Department’s unclassified email system.  

This cyber-attack follows an increasing number of similar attacks at both government and private sector entities.  Cummings has been calling for enhanced oversight of cyber-attacks for the past year and recently sent similar letters to Home Depot, Target, Kmart, Community Health Systems, USIS, and the Postal Service.

“The increased frequency and sophistication of cyber-attacks on both public and private entities highlights the need for greater collaboration to improve data security,” Cummings wrote.  “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 thanked the State Department for agreeing to provide a briefing on the latest cyber-attack, and he requested information about the scope of the attack, the types of data breached, the number of individuals potentially affected, the potential source of the attacks, and data protection improvement measures taken since discovering the breach.

Click here and see below for a copy of the letter:

November 17, 2014

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

            I am writing to request additional information about an apparent cyber-attack against the State Department that was reported this weekend.[1]  Press accounts report that, as a result of this suspected attack, the State Department was forced to shut down “its entire unclassified email system as technicians repair possible damage from a suspected hacker attack.”[2]                                                                              

            I would like to thank your staff for agreeing to provide a briefing on this cyber-attack in the near future. 

            The increasing number of cyber-attacks in both the public and private sectors is unprecedented and poses a clear and present danger to our nation’s security.  For example, USA Today recently ran a front-page story reporting that 500 million records have been stolen from various financial institutions as a result of cyber-attacks over the past year, according to federal law enforcement officials.  The report stated:

Federal officials warned companies Monday that hackers have stolen more than 500 million financial records over the past 12 months, essentially breaking into banks without ever entering a building.[3] 

            The report also explained that law enforcement officials believe the “U.S. financial sector is one of the most targeted in the world.”[4] 

            Large companies such as Home Depot, Target, Kmart, and Community Health Partners—one of the nation’s largest hospital chains—have also been the victims of cyber-attacks in the past year.[5]

            Federal contractors have also been targeted, including USIS, the nation’s largest private provider of federal background investigations.  USIS’s network was penetrated in August, compromising the personal information of tens of thousands of federal employees.  During a hearing before our Committee in September, the director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team testified that malware attacks are “very frequent” and “happen every day across the globe on the Internet.”[6]

            The increased frequency and sophistication of cyber-attacks upon both public and private entities highlights the need for greater collaboration to improve data security.  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. 

           For these reasons, I request that the State Department provide the following information:

  1. a description of the cyber-attack, including the date and the manner in which it was first discovered, the dates the attack is believed to have begun and ended, and the actions you took after learning of this attack;

(2)        the types of data breached, the number of employees and others potentially affected, the manner in which employees and others were notified of the breach, and the scope of any adverse actions that resulted from the breach;

(3)        the findings from forensic investigative analyses or reports concerning the breaches, including findings about vulnerabilities to malware, the use of data segmentation to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and why the breach went undetected for the length of time it did;

(4)        a description of data protection improvement measures the State Department has undertaken since discovering the breaches;

(5)        a description of the data security policies and procedures that govern your relationships with vendors, third-party service providers, and subcontractors, including the manner by which you ensure that entities performing work on your behalf have reasonable data security controls in place to thwart cyber-attacks; and

(6)        any recommendations for improvements in cybersecurity laws or the coordination of efforts to identify and respond to emerging trends in cybersecurity risks to help prevent future data breaches.

            Please provide the requested information by January 5, 2015.  If you have any questions about this request, please contact Timothy D.  Lynch at (202) 225-0312. 

                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                        Elijah E. Cummings

                                                                        Ranking Member

 

cc:        The Honorable Darrell E. Issa, Chairman                     

 

[1] State Dept Computers Hacked, Email Shut Down, Associated Press (Nov. 16, 2014) (online at https://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_STATE_DEPARTMENT_COMPUTERS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2014-11-16-15-01-30).

[2] Id.

[3] Officials Warn 500 Million Financial Records Hacked, USA Today (Oct. 21, 2014) (online at www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/10/20/secret-service-fbi-hack-cybersecuurity/17615029/).

[4] Id.

[5] Home Depot Data Breach Could Be the Largest Yet, New York Times (Sept. 8, 2014) (online at https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/home-depot-confirms-that-it-was-hacked/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0); Target Cyber Breach Hits 40 Million Payment Cards at Holiday Peak, Reuters (Dec. 19, 2013) (online at  https://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/19/us-target-breach-idUSBRE9BH1GX20131219); Kmart, Kmart Investigating Payment System Intrusion (Oct. 10, 2014) (online at https://www.kmart.com/ue/home/10.10.14_News_Release.pdf.); Hack of Community Health Systems Affects 4.5 Million Patients, New York Times (Aug. 18, 2014) (online at https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/hack-of-community-health-systems-affects-4-5-million-patients).

[6] House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hearing on Examining Obamacare’s Failures in Security, Accountability, and Transparency (Sept. 18, 2014).

113th Congress