A cyberattack similar to previous hacker intrusions from China penetrated computer networks for months at USIS, the government’s leading security Relevant Products/Services clearance contractor, before the company noticed, officials and others familiar with an FBI investigation and related official inquiries told The Associated Press.
The breach, first revealed by the company and government agencies in August, compromised the private records of at least 25,000 employees at the Homeland Security Department and cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost government contracts.
In addition to trying to identify the perpetrators and evaluate the scale of the stolen material, the government inquiries have prompted concerns about why computer detection alarms inside the company failed to quickly notice the hackers and whether federal agencies that hired the company should have monitored its practices more closely.
Former employees of the firm, U.S. Investigations Services LLC, also have raised questions about why the company and the government failed to ensure that outdated background reports containing personal data Relevant Products/Services weren’t regularly purged from the company’s computers.
Details about the investigation and related inquiries were described by federal officials and others familiar with the case. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the continuing criminal investigation, the others because of concerns about possible litigation.
A computer forensics analysis by consultants hired by the company’s lawyers defended USIS’ handling of the breach, noting it was the firm that reported the incident.
The analysis said government agencies regularly reviewed and approved the firm’s early warning system. In the analysis, submitted to federal officials in September and obtained by the AP, the consultants criticized the government’s decision in August to indefinitely halt the firm’s background investigations.
USIS reported the cyberattack to federal authorities on June 5, more than two months before acknowledging it publicly. The attack Relevant Products/Services had hallmarks similar to past intrusions by Chinese hackers, according to people familiar with the investigation. Last March, hackers traced to China were reported to have penetrated computers at the Office of Personnel Management, the federal agency that oversees most background investigations of government workers and has contracted extensively with USIS.
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