Email Services of FBI Compromised by a Virus

In May, 2009 the electronic mailing systems of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States was purportedly disrupted by a virus.

Due to this disruption, the bureau was required to temporarily close down its network (the unclassified part) causing many of the agency employees to stop using the internet emailing services. They were unable to send email to their counterparts in other law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The FBI assured the public that the shut-down was part of a necessary precautionary process. It was discovered within 48 hours the possible risks to the system and soon emailing systems were back online for the external and unclassified network.

Although many FBI agents can avail of secure internal networks or Blackberry to send email and messages, they still need the unclassified network to communicate messages through the Web-based electronic mailing system. During the week after the discovery of the virus, the network was available to only a few users and agents while others could not use it at all.

This unclassified network connects 400 or more national offices as well as 60 offices internationally. However, Paul Bresson (FBI spokesperson) said that these same offices have a secure emailing system that connects them all and which is still functioning properly.

It seems hackers were able to infiltrate the FBI emailing system by putting malicious code in file attachments which hacked into the network. Although the FBI did not provide details about the breach, it temporarily blocked users from receiving or sending attachments via the unclassified network that was affected. This way, their technicians were able to assess the situation and reduce the threats attacking the unclassified network.

Malicious content attached to files is a common breach performed by hackers in many companies outside government agencies. For instance, Microsoft has cautioned companies and individuals that internet hackers are attaching compromised QuickTime media files to install malicious software in Windows operating systems. Because of an un-patched flaw in one of Appleā€™s media formats, this has made breaches like this possible for attackers.

This kind of attack is not new for organizations and agencies alike. In fact, before the FBI was hit, the same virus had compromised the Windows systems in the computer network of the United States Marshals.

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