FBI computer problems worsened last week when the bureau shut down a commercial e-mail network it used to communicate with the public. The reason, Newsweek reports, was a “cyberintrusion” by a hacker who officials fear had been tapping into supposedly secure e-mail messages since late last year. Concerned officials notified the White House. One top FBI official regularly used his shut-down account to message state and local police chiefs. “This is an eye-opener for all of us,” says one FBI official.
Two big questions: How did hackers penetrated the bureau’s e-mails–and why did it take the FBI so long to tell the rest of the government. A suspicion is that hackers used “password cracking” software that tries out millions of password combinations or somehow eavesdropped on Internet transmissions. The Department of Homeland Security urged e-mail users throughout the government to be more careful about choosing passwords by avoiding obvious ones like nicknames, initials, children’s names, birth dates, pet names, or brands of car.