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Hacker Releases Data on 10K DHS Workers, Says FBI Is Next

Almost 10,000 Department of Homeland Security employees awoke this morning to find that their personal information had been stolen from the agency’s servers and leaked on the Internet. For his next trick, the same hacker said he’ll release the personal details of 20,000 FBI staff members.

The information in the data dump includes names, job titles, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. The attacker targeted not only DHS employees, but also included individuals listed as contractors for the agency. Other DHS staffers, such as analysts, special agents, and technicians, were also targeted.

Motivated by Palestinian Conflict

The person or group behind the hack goes by the handle @DotGovs on Twitter. The hacker posted screenshots that appeared to show him accessing a confidential Web page from the U.S. Department of Justice. One of the owners of the feed tweeted, “When will the US government realize we won’t stop until they cut relations with Israel,” as a possible motive for the attack. The hacker also used the #FreePalestine hashtag in a number of tweets.

The hacker also claimed that the Justice Department only became aware of the breach in the last 24 hours, although the hack was executed a week ago. Both DHS and the Justice Department appeared silent on the attack, which comes at a particularly sensitive time for Homeland Security officials. The agency had hoped to generate positive publicity with news of its efforts to secure yesterday’s Super Bowl festivities at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

The attacker said he was able to gain access to the Justice Department’s intranet after first compromising a staff member’s e-mail address. Armed with that information, the hacker was able to get the rest of the authentication details by calling the appropriate department at the agency. The attacker claimed to be a new employee and asked for help.

The attack on DHS indicates that the rate of potentially severe hacks against the government have only been increasing, Gartner Inc. analyst Katell Thielemann told us.

“The OPM hack, which affected millions of people, is probably the most severe in recent memory in terms of reach and impact, but the release of thousands of DHS and FBI employee personnel should be of concern,” she told us. “The exposure of this information could run the gamut from embarrassment and humiliation all the way to harassment and physical safety concerns for affected employees and their families. Many DHS and FBI personnel operate undercover, for instance. Exposing their identity could endanger their lives, undermine operations, and have a chilling effect on future recruitment.”

Security Heads Make Big Targets

As bad as the leaks are, the hacker is claiming it could have been much worse. In interviews with media outlets, the person claiming responsibility said that while he only downloaded about 200 GB of data, he had access to a full terabyte, including credit card numbers and military e-mails. Unlike the employees’ personal details, the hacker did not provide this information to media outlets for independent verification.

The federal government is attempting to make the shift from an “accredit and forget it” cyber-culture to one based on risk-based frameworks, according to Thielemann. “Most agencies are trying to close security holes in a patchwork of legacy systems,” she said. “This is a huge undertaking, and it is happening in a massively complex federated infrastructure governed by slow-changing rules and policies.”

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