State Department reportedly suffers a cyber attack

US State Department sign in front of a building
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Hackers recently hit the Department of State with a cyber attack, according to Fox News and Reuters reports, The Department of Defense Cyber Command also reportedly released notifications of a potentially serious data breach.

According to a tweet by a Fox News reporter on Saturday, the breach is believed to have happened a couple of weeks ago. In a later tweet, the reporter said the extent of the breach, the investigation into the suspected entity behind it, efforts taken to mitigate it, and any ongoing risk to operations remain unclear.

However, a source told Reuters that the State Department has not experienced significant disruptions and has not had its operations impeded in any way.

"The Department takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard its information and continuously takes steps to ensure information is protected. For security reasons, we are not in a position to discuss the nature or scope of any alleged cybersecurity incidents at this time," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

Steven Hope, CEO and co-founder of Authlogics, told IT Pro the State Department is a juicier target for hackers than the shop around the corner.

“While we don’t know what was breached, and we may never know in this case, the fact it is listed as ‘serious’ indicates that there could be a lot behind this, either in terms of the volume of data accessed or importance of it. It would be very interesting to know how the bad guys got in to affect the breach,” Hope said.

“By far the most common way into a network is via weak authentication, e.g. breached passwords or poor MFA. After all, we do have over 12 thousand breached U.S. State Department credentials in our database alone, but again, in this case, we may never know."

Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason, told IT Pro that while the State Department isn’t likely to disclose any further details of this attack, given the chaos in Afghanistan, and lingering tensions with Russia over the Colonial and JBS attacks and China for the Microsoft Exchange Server attacks, public and private sector security teams should be on high alert.


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“Also, allies of the U.S. across Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Africa should also be on high alert. Let's hope the perception by some that the U.S. is distracted doesn't lead to more attacks and chaos,” he said.

“The State Department attack is one of the reasons for the EDR mandate for the US Federal government agencies in the recent White House Executive Order. Having a means of finding the attacks like the one on the State Department as threat actors move in the slow, subtle, stealthy way through networks is the only option in returning defenders to higher ground above threat actors.

"Advanced prevention, building resilience, ensuring that the blast radius of payloads is minimized and generally using peacetime to foster antifragility is achievable. Today, it’s not about who we hire or what we buy. It’s about how we adapt and improve every day."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.