FBI probes alleged Homeland Security data breaches

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI is investigating allegations that foreign hackers repeatedly attacked dozens of computers at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), two Democratic lawmakers and an aide said on Monday.

The National Operations Center at the Department of Homeland Security in an undated file photo. The FBI is investigating allegations that Unisys Corp failed to detect a Chinese Web site's cyber break-ins on computers at the Department of Homeland Security and then tried to cover up its shortcomings, The Washington Post reported on Monday. REUTERS/U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Handout

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson has asked for an inquiry into the data breaches and questioned work done by information systems provider Unisys Corp to protect DHS from hackers.

A Thompson aide said the FBI investigation is based on a committee probe that has been going on for several months.

Thompson, who chairs the House of Representatives committee that oversees DHS, was joined by committee colleague Rhode Island Rep. James Langevin in seeking the inquiry.

“The results of our investigation suggest that the department is the victim not only of cyber attacks initiated by foreign entities, but of incompetent and possibly illegal activity by the contractor charged with maintaining security on its networks,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.

In 2002 and 2006, Unisys won major system security contracts with the Transportation Security administration (TSA), a part of DHS, which was set up by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The company, responding to an article in the Washington Post about the probe, said in a statement: “We can state generally that the allegation that Unisys did not properly install essential security systems is incorrect.”

The Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based company said, “Since Unisys began providing services for the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the company has worked closely with security personnel from DHS ... We believe that a proper investigation of this matter will conclude that Unisys acted in good faith.”

In a September 21 letter to DHS, Thompson and Langevin said the committee’s inquiry found that “dozens of Department of Homeland Security computers were compromised by hackers” and that hackers removed data from DHS systems to a Web hosting service connected to Chinese Web sites.

The letter alleged that the data was removed “despite the Department of Homeland Security’s assertions to the contrary,” and that network protection devices were not up and running when the data breaches occurred.

“Contractors provided inaccurate and misleading information to Department of Homeland Security officials about the source of these attacks and attempted to hide security gaps in their capabilities,” said the letter from the lawmakers addressed to DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh, editing by Jeffrey Benkoe