The Commerce Department says that the cyber attack on its job-development bureau was so vicious that the agency’s entire computer network had been at risk, The Washington Post reports.
Federal officials were so concerned that the virus could spread to economically sensitive information that 200 employees spent months without email or access to Internet servers and databases. BlackBerrys were left along, and there was no Internet communication with regional offices. Officials spent nearly $3 million to destroy computers, hire consultants and security temporary networks before building a new operating network from the ground up.
Now we learn that the attack was not an attack.
The disruption was a common malware infection on six computers, investigations report, and it could have been erased with anti-virus tools and other security steps.
Inspector General Todd J. Zinser describes a series of errors and miscommunications that lead the Economic Development Administration to take such drastic steps immediately after a Department of Homeland Security team flagged a possible virus in December 2011, the Post reports.
The June 26 report notes that inexperienced, underqualified IT employees overreacted to incorrect information. They spoke past one another and did not validate how many computers were targeted. They did not heed early conclusions that this was not a large-scale attack by a foreign entity.
EDA officials destroyed $175,000-worth of laptops, desktops, servers and printers, stopping only when they ran out of money (Commerce officials denied requests for millions of dollars to demolish more equipment).
In total, the expenses came to half the department’s technology budget.