US government agencies under cyber attack

A widespread and unusually resilient computer attack that began July 4 knocked out the websites of several government agencies, including some that are responsible for fighting cyber crime, The Associated Press has learned.

The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department websites were all down at varying points over the holiday weekend and into this week, according to officials inside and outside the government. Some of the sites were still experiencing problems last night.



Federal government officials refused to publicly discuss any details of the cyber attack, and would only generally acknowledge that it occurred. It was not clear whether other government sites also were attacked.



Others familiar with the outage, which is called a denial of service attack, said that the fact that the government websites were still being affected three days after it began signalled an unusually lengthy and sophisticated attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the matter.

The Homeland Security Department confirmed that officials had received reports of "malicious web activity" and they were investigating the matter, but had no further comment. Two government officials acknowledged that the Treasury and Secret Service sites were brought down, and said the agencies were working with their internet service provider to resolve the problem.



Ben Rushlo, director of internet technologies at Keynote Systems, called it a "massive outage" and said problems with the Transportation Department site began on Saturday and continued until Monday, while the FTC site was down Sunday and Monday.



Keynote Systems is a mobile and website monitoring company. The company publishes data detailing outages on websites, including 40 government sites it watches.



According to Rushlo, the Transportation website was "100 per cent down" for two days, so that no internet users could get through to it. The FTC site, meanwhile, started to come back online late Sunday, but even on Tuesday internet users still were unable to get to the site 70 per cent of the time.



"This is very strange. You don't see this," he said. "Having something 100 per cent down for a 24-hour-plus period is a pretty significant event."



He added that, "The fact that it lasted for so long and that it was so significant in its ability to bring the site down says something about the site's ability to fend off (an attack) or about the severity of the attack."



Denial of service attacks against websites are not uncommon, and are usually caused when sites are deluged with internet traffic so as to effectively take them off-line. Mounting such an attack can be relatively easy using widely available hacking programs, and they can be made far more serious if hackers infect and use thousands of computers tied together into "botnets."



For instance, last summer, in the weeks leading up to the war between Russia and Georgia, Georgian government and corporate websites began to see "denial of service" attacks. The Kremlin denied involvement, but a group of independent Western computer experts traced domain names and website registration data to conclude that the Russian security and military intelligence agencies were involved.



Documenting cyber attacks against government sites is difficult, and depends heavily on how agencies characterise an incident and how successful or damaging it is.



Government officials routinely say their computers are probed millions of times a day, with many of those being scans that don't trigger any problems. In a June report, the congressional Government Accountability Office said federal agencies reported more than 16,000 threats or incidents last year, roughly three times the amount in 2007.



Most of those involved unauthorised access to the system, violations of computer use policies or investigations into potentially harmful incidents.



The Homeland Security Department, meanwhile, says there were 5,499 known breaches of US government computers in 2008, up from 3,928 the previous year, and just 2,172 in 2006.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer / Web Designer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future