The U.S. State Department was purportedly the victim of a serious cyber attack in recent weeks, according to a Fox News report published on Saturday. The extent of breach and when it was discovered are currently unknown.
Citing an unnamed source, the outlet stated that the U.S. Department of Defence’s Cyber Command had issued notifications of a possibly serious breach. Although it’s unclear whether the State Department’s operations have been affected by the attack, Fox reported that the department’s work to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans from Kabul, Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces had not been affected.
The identity of the alleged perpetrators is unknown at this time. In a statement to Fox News, the State Department did not confirm or deny the purported attack.
“The Department takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard its information and continuously takes steps to ensure information is protected,” a department spokesperson said. “For security reasons, we are not in a position to discuss the nature or scope of any alleged cybersecurity incidents at this time.”
However, Reuters stated that a knowledgeable source affirmed the department has not experienced significant disruptions and has not had its operations impeded in any way. Reuters’ source did not confirm the incident.
Fox News pointed out that the revelation of a possible cyber attack has occurred in the same month the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs released its federal cybersecurity report.
Notably, the report found that the agency could not provide documentation for 60% of the sample employees tested that had access to its classified network. The State Department also left thousands of employee accounts active even after they had departed from the agency for extended periods of time — in some cases as long as 152 days after employees quit, retired, or were fired — on its classified and unclassified networks.
“Former employees or hackers could use those unexpired credentials to gain access to State’s sensitive and classified information, while appearing to be an authorised user,” the report stated.
An analysis of the State Department’s systems found that the agency failed to address vulnerabilities. Ten systems were found to contain 450 critical-risk and 736 high-risk outstanding vulnerabilities.
Overall, the State Department’s cybersecurity practices received a “D” rating, one of the lowest ratings available.