The State Department computer system fell victim to a cyber attack during recent weeks, according to U.S. officials who say the incident prompted a full shutdown of the department’s unclassified email system and occurred around the same time hackers penetrated systems at the White House.
The White House cyber attack became public in late-October, when Obama administration officials revealed that temporary outages were being experienced in the building’s computer network.
At the time, anonymous U.S. officials told Reuters there had been suspicious cyber activity on an unclassified White House network but would not say who was responsible for the activity.
Some news reports suggested the attack was consistent with state-sponsored hacking activities and that officials believed Russia may be the culprit. But the Obama administration has declined to confirm those reports in recent weeks.
It was not immediately clear Monday whether administration officials believe the State Department and White House incidents were related.
The Associated Press was first to report over the weekend that the State Department had taken the unprecedented step of shutting down its entire unclassified email system as technicians repaired possible damage from a suspected hacker attack.
A senior department official told the AP Sunday that “activity of concern” was detected in the system around the same time the White House incident.
Separately, recent weeks saw a number of other agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service and the National Weather Service, report attacks.
The official who spoke with the AP said none of the State Department’s classified systems were affected but that the department shut down its worldwide email late on Friday as part of a scheduled outage of some of its Internet-linked systems to make security improvements to its main unclassified computer network.
Previous attacks on U.S. systems have been blamed on anonymous independent hackers, as well as state-actors believed to be backed by Russia and China.