Testifying at a House hearing today, a security coordinator for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, revealed that hackers obtained entry to State Dept. systems after an employee opened a mysterious email, AP reports.
In the first public account revealing details about the intrusion and the government's hurried behind-the-scenes response, a senior State Department official described an elaborate ploy by sophisticated international hackers. They used a secret break-in technique that exploited a design flaw in Microsoft software.
Donald R. Reid also confirmed that a limited amount of U.S. government data was stolen by the hackers until tripwires severed all the State Department's Internet connections throughout eastern Asia. The shut-off left U.S. government offices without Internet access in the tense weeks preceding missile tests by North Korea.
While Reid didn't reveal the nationality of the hackers it has been widely reported that the attacks came from IP addresses in China.
The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (news, bio, voting record), D-Miss., said hackers are no longer considered harmless, bored teenagers. "These are experienced, sophisticated people who are trying to exploit our vulnerabilities and gain access to our information," Thompson said.
Microsoft said it works as quickly as possible to provide customers with security updates.
"If we release a security update that is not adequately tested, we could potentially put customers at risk, especially as the release of an update can lead to reverse-engineering the fix and lead to broader attacks," said Microsoft's senior security strategist, Phil Reitinger. "Updates must be able to be deployed by customers with confidence."