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US homeland security employees locked out of computer networks

A DHS official said a network outage had temporarily affected four US Citizenship and Immigration Services facilities in the Washington area due to an expired DHS certificate.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2017 09:10 IST
Employees began experiencing problems logging into networks on Tuesday morning due to a problem related to domain controllers, or servers that process authentication requests.
Employees began experiencing problems logging into networks on Tuesday morning due to a problem related to domain controllers, or servers that process authentication requests.(Getty Images)

Some US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees in the Washington area and in Philadelphia were unable to access some agency computer networks on Tuesday, according to three sources.

It was not clear how widespread the issue was or how significantly it affected daily functions at DHS, a large government agency whose responsibilities include immigration services, border security and cyber defense.

In a statement, a DHS official confirmed a network outage that temporarily affected four US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) facilities in the Washington area due to an “expired DHS certificate.”

A source said it also affected a USCIS facility in Philadelphia.

Employees began experiencing problems logging into networks on Tuesday morning due to a problem related to domain controllers, or servers that process authentication requests, which could not validate personal identity verification (PIV) cards used by federal workers and contractors to access certain information systems, according to the source.

Some employees were able to access systems through a virtual private network. It was not clear if other branches of DHS were affected.

The source characterised the issue as one stemming from relatively benign information technology missteps and a failure to ensure network redundancy. There was no evidence of foul play, the source said, adding that it appeared the domain controller credentials had expired on Monday when offices were closed for the federal Presidents’ Day holiday.

“We are working to track all device certificate issuance and expirations to ensure future lapses of service do not occur,” the DHS official said in the statement.

US President Donald Trump vowed to make cyber security a priority during his administration, following an election marred by hacks of Democratic Party emails that US intelligence agencies concluded were carried out by Russia in order to help Trump, a Republican, win.

At a White House event last month he said he would “hold my Cabinet secretaries and agency heads accountable, totally accountable, for the cyber security of their organisations.”

Trump had planned to sign a cyber security executive order last month but it was put on hold to allow more time for review.