The U.S. State Department was recently hit by a cyberattack that could have caused a serious data breach and exposed sensitive data, according to a Fox Business report.
An unnamed source revealed the breach to Fox, but said the extent of the breach was not yet clear. It was also unclear whether the attack affected operations at the government agency.
A source reportedly told Fox News that efforts to rescue thousands of Americans trapped in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last week were not impacted by the cyberattack, which likely occurred several weeks ago.
A State Department spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the attack took place.
“The Department takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard its information and continuously takes steps to ensure information is protected,” the spokesperson told Fox News. “For security reasons, we are not in a position to discuss the nature or scope of any alleged cybersecurity incidents at this time.”
A Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report released earlier this month gave the State Department a “D” rating for its cybersecurity, the lowest rating possible.
The report said that “sensitive national security information” was at risk and that security was “ineffective in four of five function areas.”
Names, dates of birth, and social security numbers used for passport vetting were specifically mentioned in the report as being at risk.
“Auditors identified weaknesses related to State’s protection of sensitive information and noted the Department ‘did not have an effective data protection and privacy program in place’,” the committee’s report noted.
Who was behind it?
The attack follows several large-scale cyberattacks on U.S. companies including the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods, both of which caused minor, short-term supply chain problems earlier this year.
As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) pointed out on Fox News in July, China or Russia could be spurring criminals in their own countries to commit cyberattacks against the United States, which gives them plausible deniability.
Rubio said at the time: “There is nothing that keeps a nation-state — and in fact, they have every incentive, like China or like Russia, to go to criminal networks and say, we want you guys to do this hack,” with the understanding that if the group gets caught, they will not implicate the government.