Tag Archives: State Department

State Department Has “Technological Systems Issues”

I guess that is their version of “Houston, we have a problem”.  The State Department posted a press release on their web site YESTERDAY that says that they have been having problems issuing visas and passports for two weeks.  The State Department usually issues about 50,000  visas a day.  Last week, they issued about 1,500 humanitarian visas and 1,250 H2 agricultural visas.  Shades of the OPM, the press release is a little soft on details.  It would appear that they are trying to put the best possible spin on things.

The New York Times reported this problem started two weeks ago as a result of a hardware failure. When they attempted to switch to the backup system, they discovered that the data there was corrupted as well.  This is a well known issue with synchronizing databases between data centers – when the primary gets corrupted and you don’t shut off the process that copies it to the backup system immediately, the backups become corrupted also.  If you don’t have older backups to restore from, you are S.O.L.

The State Department says that they don’t not expect the system to be back online until next week.  In the mean time, as the old folk song goes, the crops are rotting in the fields because the ag workers, who come over on guest visas, are stuck in Central America – waiting.

Other people who were trying to get visas for immediate use are out of luck.  For example, Nigerian musician King Sunny Ade, was forced to cancel a U.S. tour and refund tickets.

If you assume that on average, the State Department issues 50,000 visas a day, being down for two weeks means they are 500,000 visas down.  And, if you assume that number is quite a bit larger per day during the summer, that number may be closing in on a million people.

For those people who are smart and obtain their visas well in advance of their trips, this is a minor annoyance.  For those people, for example, who travel on business at the last minute, they are basically out of luck.

At least hackers didn’t download the whole visa database.  Of course, if they did, they couldn’t read it because it is corrupted.  🙂

The press release can be found here and the New York Times article found here.

State Department Still Pwned

Homeland Security Today and others are reporting that three months after the State Department admitted that hackers had gotten into their unclassified email system, the hackers are still there.  (see article)

While it is always fun to beat up government bureaucracies, it points out that sometimes getting hackers out is a hard thing to do.

There have to be a bunch of questions being asked at Foggy Bottom these days, such as:

  • How did the hackers get into the email in the first place – have we closed that door?
  • Where else are the hackers hiding that allow them to reinfect email?
  • Are there insiders helping the hackers?  Even unwittingly.

And so forth.

The article says that even though the NSA and outside contractors have been working on the problem, it is still a problem and it is not fixed.

Still, State Department employees are using that breached email system.  It is possible that NSA is watching what is going out – maybe – and that might make them feel better.  It is also possible that the NSA knows who the hackers are.  Hopefully, they have moved the more sensitive but still unclassified traffic to a different network.

As we watch Sony and Target and Home Depot and all the others wrestle with breaches and we look at the resources available to the State Department,  the fact that State can’t fix this problem after three months should make people concerned about what they would do if they were breached.

The statistics are that 60% (Experian) to 70% (First Data) of the small and medium size businesses that have a breach go out of business within six months.  I am certain that State is spending a LOT of money trying to get these guys out.  Without success.  What chance does the average business have of recovering from a significant breach?

Mitch