A number of government employees had their productivity cut short late last week when the government shut down its unclassified email system through the State Department. This shutdown occurred after IT experts noticed some unusual activity on the servers. This response, which didn’t affect any classified email systems or content, was swift and widespread throughout the department, with plans to return the system to operation on Monday or Tuesday after updating the security protocols and investigating the causes and the reach of the hackers’ access.
What made the action so sudden? Experts inside the system have reason to believe this most recent attack is linked to the data breach of the White House’s unclassified computers last month, a hacking event that they believe to have originated in Russia. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, told CNN that the US has no proof that Russia is in any way behind that breach and that they would not discuss any allegations of hacking until proof was provided.
Immediately after the time that the White House computers were hacked, other mysterious activity was detected across government networks, but the extent of it has not yet been isolated. So far, computers at the US Postal System and the National Weather Service have also reported breaches.
In a statement published on Huffington Post, however, a senior State Department official who wished to remain anonymous said that the email outage was actually intentionally scheduled in an effort to conduct security maintenance on the system as a result of the earlier breach. This belies some of the media response that indicated the State Department had essentially pulled the plug on the system once suspicious activity was noticed. This official confirmed that investigators are still at work on the extent of the October breach, but reiterated that no classified information has been compromised.
It’s easy to give in to fear-mongering from sources who see this as our government’s inability to secure its own networks or who claim that our technology isn’t all that secure, but the better viewpoint is to applaud the State Department for taking action to minimize the amount of content that hackers could access. Even as recently as a year ago, reports of large scale data breaches in the private and corporate sectors were only made public months after the event and after investigators confirmed it had taken place. If anything has been learned from this, it’s that immediate action is important, even when suspicious activity is only suspected.