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Company That Did Background Check On Snowden Got Hacked

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Chuck Ross
Reporter

The private contractor that handles background checks for the Department of Homeland Security and vetted Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis had its computer systems hacked in what it believes is a state-sponsored attack.

USIS says it self-reported the cyber attack to federal agencies. According to The Washington Post, federal officials said that DHS employees’ personal information was likely stolen.

The company said in a statement Wednesday that its internal IT security team discovered “an apparent external cyber-attack” on its corporate network.

“We immediately informed federal law enforcement, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other relevant federal agencies,” USIS’s statement reads, adding that experts who have reviewed the spill “believe it has all the markings of a state-sponsored attack.”

The FBI is investigating the breach, and DHS has put its work with the company on hold, according to The Washington Post.

“Our forensic analysis has concluded that some DHS personnel may have been affected, and DHS has notified its entire workforce,” said DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard, according to the Post. “We are committed to ensuring our employees’ privacy and are taking steps to protect it.”

The attack marks the latest in a wave of failures at USIS, based in Virginia.

Lawmakers, including Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and Maryland U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, voiced strong concern after DHS signed a $190 million contract with the company to conduct background checks for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The problem was the the Department of Justice was investigating USIS for fraudulent activity that was first reported by a whisteblower in 2011.

The company maintained that it has since fixed its past problems.

USIS was also the company that was in charge of vetting Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis.

Snowden is the National Security Agency whistleblower who took millions of classified documents from the agency’s servers. Alexis was a civilian contractor who killed 12 people and himself during a mass-shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. last year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. attorneys have claimed that in an effort to cut costs, the company has cut corners on its background check process.

“The fact that a company can commit so many mistakes—including ones that jeopardize our national security—and be rewarded for their incompetence at a high price tells us yet again that our contracting system is broken,” Coburn said last month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

California U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also criticized the DHS for contracting USIS to conduct immigration background checks.

“There is no good reason—bureaucratic or otherwise—why the United States should continue to do business with a company with this kind of track record, especially contracting with a key immigration agency,” Royce said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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