Commerce Dept. data threat probe blames unattended laptop

After US Sec. of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez returned from a visit to China in December, his department's IT infrastructure suffered a rash of attempted break-ins. A probe is now under way to find out if the two events are related.

The main questions seem to be whether data had been copied off of the laptop the former Kellogg's CEO took on his frequent trips to China. Sec. Gutierrez declined comment to the press, and declined to speculate how a compromise to his system could have happened.

US-CERT techs have reported at least three separate occasions where serious data break-ins were being attempted at the Dept. of Commerce, which is especially interesting given the Dept.'s history of giving away critical information without any break-ins necessary. In April 2007, for instance, the manager of the DOC's critical infrastructure protection program notified the Office of Management and Budget that data it was making public on its Web site about federal grants contained personally identifiable information (PDF available here).

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In 2006, The Washington Post reported that due to a successful rootkit attack on the Commerce Department's workstations, the bureau had all but disconnected its computers from the Internet entirely.

It has not been suggested that Gutierrez was negligent with his laptop, but the current theory, according to the Associated Press, is that when it was left unattended during trade talks in Beijing, his hard drive was covertly duplicated.

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