Hackers suspected of working for Russia got access to email accounts belonging to the then head of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and members of the department’s cybersecurity staff who are responsible for cybersecurity, in the SolarWinds hack, the Associated Press reported.
It is not known how much intelligence had been stolen, but it’s a significant fact given that the agency’s job is to protect US citizens from such hacks and it can’t protect itself. This is the opinion that many security experts and federal officials share.
“The SolarWinds hack was a victory for our foreign adversaries, and a failure for DHS,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, top Republican on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The US state and private sector were hit especially hard these past months.
First, in December, we learned about the security breach at SolarWinds Corp in which hackers infiltrated the US tech company’s network management software and successfully spied on nine federal agencies and 100 companies. Russia denied any involvement in the hacks.
In March, a new breach came to light involving thousands of Microsoft Exchange email servers. The breach, the company says, was carried out by Hafnium, Chinese state hackers. China denied any involvement in the breaches.
These attacks are especially worrying because in both cases, it was a private company that detected the hackers and not the government.
The Associated Press journalists talked to over a dozen US government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The interviews provide a fuller picture of what data was stolen by hackers.
The journalists learned that in the days after the email hack, Wolf and other top DHS officials used new and clean phones along with the encrypted messaging system Signal to communicate.
One former administration official said the Federal Aviation Administration who also suffered an attack struggled for weeks to identify how many servers it had on SolarWinds Orion software.
Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, indicated at one of the congressional hearings that a DHS secretary’s email had also been hacked. While DHS spokesperson Sarah Peck said only “a small number of employees’ accounts were targeted in the breach.”
The Biden administration has pledged to address “significant gaps in modernization and in technology of cybersecurity across the federal government.”
As part of these efforts, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently got a stimulus package of $650 million.