Saturday, February 04, 2012

Virus Hits Part Of U.S. Commerce Dept.

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A virus has caused the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) to disable its email and Internet access indefinitely while the nature and origin of the attack is investigated.

Visitors to the EDA's website are greeted with a banner across the top with the message that the agency's site and email system is "experiencing a disruption in service."

In the meantime, the EDA--which awards business-development grants to communities that need economic stimulation--has put up a simple, temporary website giving people access to key information, such as funding opportunities and contact information."The agency is working to address the issue and resume normal operations as soon as possible," according to the message.

"We continue to operate as fully as possible to meet our core mission," the agency said in an emailed statement, adding that it is still processing grant applications and serving customers. Staffers will be working using phone and fax lines until service is restored.

Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman confirmed in an interview Friday that the department isolated the network and systems by disconnecting them out of caution on Jan. 24 after a virus attack. The attack is still under investigation by the department's IT team, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), and an outside team of experts.

Officials don't have details on the scope of the attack nor do they know when the systems will be back online, she said.

The virus initially was discovered Jan. 20, after which EDA IT staff issued McAfee system updates to all EDA staff computers over the next several days. However, the EDA discovered additional virus contamination, which led to the disconnection of the systems.

The feds haven't had the best luck lately keeping their websites at the top of their service, but this has been mainly due to back-end issues rather than security woes.

Sites that have experienced service disruptions over the last several months include the Defense Information System Agency, USA.gov, and CIO.gov.

However, security was the cause of a shutdown of Internet access at another federal department website in the last year. A phishing attack on the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory last April caused the lab to shut down Internet and email access for more than a week.

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