Commerce agency still offline 12 weeks after virus hits

What would you do without Google, or some other search engine, always ready to find what you need on the Internet? How could you do your job without e-mail and the attachments it carries?  And where did you put that letter opener?

A small agency within the Commerce Department has been finding those things out for the past 12 weeks, The Washington Post reports.

A virus contained in an e-mail hit the 215-employee Economic Development Administration 80 days ago and proved to be so pernicious that it threatened Commerce’s entire network, the Post reported. So EDA shut down its system and sent employees back to the 1980s, to a life of working with fax machines, postal mail and telephones.

The agency is slowly starting to recover, though the troubles persist, and the technological throwback has had a few positives, such as increasing personal contact, the article said.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues into what has proved to be one nasty virus. Commerce Secretary John Bryson told the Post, “[W]e have the best resources in the federal government looking into this,” although, 12 weeks later, “we don’t yet have any deeper understanding of what happened.”

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team reported the virus Jan. 20, and EDA was taken offline Jan. 24 as a preventive measure, the site SPAMfighter reported at the time.

The result has been any organization’s nightmare. Despite security precautions, what happened to EDA could happen in a lot of places. In April 2011, for instance, Oak Ridge National Laboratory was offline for more than a week after a phishing attack.

But 12 weeks is a long time to be living in the past, as online tools, mobile communications and other trappings of technology increasingly become part of the working life. For younger employees, in particular, it might feel like some kind of cultural re-enactment.

It could also give agencies cause to consider not burning their technology bridges so fast as they plunge ahead into new devices and platforms. Maybe they should think twice before getting rid of things like fax machines and other technology dinosaurs. Apparently, old tech is still a useful safety valve.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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