State on high alert after hackers target 2 agencies in 'phishing' attack

Published: Mar. 27, 2018 at 9:17 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2018 at 10:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - So-called "phishing attacks" targeted state computers over the holiday weekend, officials confirm.

The attacks came just days after a major international sweep of Iranians who sought to hack into Hawaii state computers.

The first phishing attack happened Saturday when an employee from the Department of Agriculture clicked on a corrupted link.

A warning from the state's IT office was sent out to workers reminding them not to open links without investigating first.

But then on Monday, a state holiday, an employee with the state Department of Human Services did it, too.

The state's chief IT security officer, Vincent Hoang, said both times alarms went off immediately and they were able to limit the damage to just the affected employees' inboxes. Hoang said they believe the two cases are connected and the emails come from the same source.

However, Hoang doesn't know if they are connected to a sweeping federal indictment last week of nine Iranians.

"The timing is very coincidental and quite honestly, I don't know if we'd be able to answer one way or the other," he said.

Hawaii was listed as a target of the Iranian group that went after state and university systems all over the world.

Former Honolulu Police Department cyber crimes expert Chris Duque said if this past weekend's incidents are not part of that group, it could be copycats who saw Hawaii as easily compromised.

"They'll try and test the waters," he said.

Cyber crimes are difficult to trace since most of the emails originate overseas.

Hoang said the state's security in place helps defend against millions of individual attacks every year, but every once in awhile one will get through.

He admits that two in one weekend is alarming, though, and said the state depends on employees to be the last line of defense.

"We can throw a lot of technology at it but at the end of the day, the best defense is relying on our users by educating them," he said.

Hoang added that the state conducts mock cyber attacks sending out fake links to see how many state workers click on them. He said they have had positive results with only a relatively small group falling for the test scam.

He added the two attacks did not penetrate the state's internal system so no resident information was compromised.

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