recommended reading

China Has Repeatedly Hacked Veterans Affairs Databases Since 2010, Lawmaker Says

Norebbo/Shutterstock.com

This story has been updated.

Since 2010, foreign actors have repeatedly compromised an unencrypted database maintained by the Veterans Affairs Department that contains personally identifiable information on roughly 20 million veterans, a House lawmaker said Tuesday.

Speaking at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Michael Coffman, R-Colo., said China and possibly Russia are responsible for the hacking.

Coffman, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said VA networks and computers have presented “an unacceptable risk for at least three years as sophisticated actors use weaknesses in VA’s security posture to exploit the system and remove veterans’ information and system passwords.”

“While VA knew foreign intruders had been in the network, the Department was never sure what exactly these foreign actors took, because the outgoing data was encrypted by the trespassers,” Coffman said. 

Michael Bowman, director of information technology and security audits for the VA Inspector General, told lawmakers that a foreign country, which he did not identify, also compromised a domain controller that runs the e-mail system used by VA senior leadership.

As a result, the unnamed country was able to export the e-mails it snagged from VA senior leaders, Bowman said. In essence, the compromise of the domain controller put the entire VA enterprise at risk, he said.

Stephen Warren, acting VA chief information officer, initially told lawmakers that as far as he knew, only one nation, which he declined to identify for security reasons, had penetrated VA networks over the past year.

Rep. Robert Roe, R-Tenn., citing an internal VA report, said department networks had been penetrated by eight countries. Roe said the report showed that “well funded cyber espionage teams” have targeted VA.

Warren noted that there is a difference between targeting a network and extracting data.

As the increasingly contentious hearing entered its second hour, Warren conceded that multiple nations have targeted VA along with criminal syndicates and department insiders who accessed veteran databases to obtain personal information.

Breaching VA databases would give hackers access to personal information that could support credit fraud, Bowman said. But VA cannot track network penetrations because it lacks automatic login software to trace such illicit access.

Warren said he couldn’t quantify the number of veterans whose personal information had been compromised, prompting an angry explosion from Coffman, incredulous that VA had no idea what data was compromised.

Roe kept pressing Warren to identify the countries that have targeted VA, but Warren declined to provide classified information in an open hearing. “Why is it classified?” Roe demanded. “People in this country need to know who is trying to steal veteran information.”

(Image via Norebbo/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.