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VA asked to help vets whose info may have been hacked by Chinese

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 5:06 p.m.
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Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers asked the Veterans Affairs Department on Friday to offer credit monitoring to veterans and dependents whose personal information, including birth dates and Social Security numbers, might have been disclosed when its computer systems were hacked.

The lawmakers are responding to testimony at a hearing where witnesses said foreign-sponsored organizations had successfully compromised VA networks. One former VA official said at least eight groups, mostly connected to the Chinese military, had hacked into the system or had tried. A VA official downplayed the threat but acknowledged that he knew of one foreign-sponsored breach.

Lawmakers emphasized that they really don't know what information may have been taken from VA's computer systems. Hackers encrypted the information before they removed it from the system. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said businesses routinely provide credit monitoring when data may be compromised. He said it should be no different for the federal government.

The VA said in a statement that a team specializing in data breaches would conduct an independent review and would provide credit monitoring if the team determines personal information has been exposed.

“VA is aware of one data breach incident in which data was removed by an outside entity,” the statement said. “VA immediately investigated the incident and we believe that no veteran personal information had been exposed to unauthorized individuals.” The breach that the VA acknowledged occurred in the spring of 2010.

Miller said that testimony from the June 4 hearing acknowledging computer hacking stood in sharp contrast to a letter from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dated May 14 which stated that VA's network security was never at risk.

“The breach in security of our veterans' most sensitive data and VA's conflicting statements as to whether or not its network was hacked are issues the committee does not take lightly,” Miller said.

He said the panel would conduct recorded interviews of VA employees in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers expect a briefing in private concerning all current risks to its computer systems. He noted that the VA requested the meeting to be private.

Miller said he also expects Shinseki to hold VA leadership accountable for what he described as “ongoing failures and unreasonable risks in IT security.”

During the June 4 hearing, Jerry Davis, the VA's former chief information security officer, told lawmakers that groups of attackers since March 2010 had taken advantage of weak technical controls and had “unfettered access” to VA's systems and information.

Rep. Mike Michaud, the ranking Democrat on the committee, described the testimony at the hearing as troubling and said he supported a closer inspection to determine the extent of the problem.

“I'm disappointed we had to find out about this through a public hearing,” Michaud said.

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