Foreign intelligence agents and other hackers attacked Interior Department networks 19 times in recent years, before walking away from keyboards with unknown amounts of stolen data, according to agency inspectors.
The incidents are unrelated to a previously disclosed assault on Interior networks connected to Office of Personnel Management systems, the agency says. That high-profile campaign seized from the U.S. government 21.5 million confidential records on national security personnel and their family members.
In the 19 previously undisclosed cybersecurity incidents, Chinese attackers and hackers with European network addresses copied data strictly from Interior systems.
The extent of the intrusions into Interior networks was revealed in a little-noticed Nov. 9 memo from Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The memo was publicly released Nov. 17.
Interior handles a significant amount of valuable data, such as oil leases, which are of particular interest to China and Russia, said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who studies foreign relations in cyberspace.
“All in all, an ideal target,” he said.
Interior did not say whether departmental business information was eyed by the hackers.
The inspector’s report, which said hackers have repeatedly exploited “vulnerabilities in publicly accessible systems,” resulting “in the loss of sensitive data and disruption of bureau operations,” cited a number of recent intrusions.
In October 2014, hackers with European-based IP addresses gained control of two of the agency’s public Web servers, which resulted “in the loss of an unknown amount of data,” inspectors&helli