State Dept. Probes Computer Attacks

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hackers in China broke into the State Department's computer system in Washington and overseas in search of information, passwords and other data, the department said yesterday. The bureau that deals with China and North Korea was hit particularly hard, although the system penetrated contained unclassified information, U.S. officials said.

"The department did detect anomalies in network traffic, and we feel it prudent to take measures to ensure our system's integrity," said deputy spokesman Tom Casey. "I can confirm this is not a virus. The department is continuing an investigation into the incident."

The break-in represented a "concerted effort" from hackers in East Asia to penetrate the State Department and seize data, a senior official said. But no large-scale thefts have yet been detected.

The United States is not certain whether the hackers were government or individuals, although computer traffic in China is heavily controlled and monitored by the government and can be censored. China is also a leading suspect in a computer break-ins at the Pentagon and a variety of government agencies last year.

The break-in occurred in late June, a senior U.S. official said. State Department information security staff members detected strange activity and took immediate steps to prevent the system from being further compromised, he said. Internet access throughout the department and some of its foreign bureaus was limited for at least two days, officials added.

The department did not lose a substantial amount of information as a result of the hacker break-in, an official said. "We've maintained our system's integrity, he added.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company