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VA sees 'dramatic flame up' in cyberattacks

The Veterans Affairs Department has seen a “dramatic flame up” in digital intrusion attempts and malware over the past several months, said VA Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren during a call with reporters Thursday.

In March, the agency blocked nearly four times the amount of malware and more than 20 times the number of intrusions as it did in November.

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In total, the VA is now stopping more than 350 million intrusion attempts and turning away upwards of 1 billion instances of malware per month.

“The volume is ramping up at an unprecedented rate,” Warren said.

At the same time, the agency reported a drastic drop in the number of veterans affected by cybersecurity. Last November, 8,733 veterans' information was put at risk. In March, only 383 veterans had their data exposed.

Not many agencies publish such granular data about their cyber threats.

“We need to start talking about this,” Warren said, adding that he had briefed the Office of Management and Budget on the findings.

Many agencies, Warren maintained, are “suffering in silence.”

While the March report has many positives, such as fewer veterans having their data compromised, it signals a disturbing trend, Warren said.

“The electronic ecosystem is under assault,” he said. “We’re all faced with this.”

Eventually his agency, and all federal agencies, will hit a breaking point, Warren explained.

“There is a quality to quantity,” he said. As the tsunami of digital attacks swells, “it’s harder to see the one or two” that get in.

In fact, numerous federal agencies have already fallen victim to the successful attacks.

The Defense Department recently revealed that Russian hackers had accessed the department’s unclassified networks. It’s also believed that Russian-backed cyberattackers were behind breaches at the State Department and White House.

The VA itself has come under fire for poor digital security.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in November chided Warren for data breaches in both 2010 and 2012 that exposed employee usernames and passwords.

In December, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) pressed the VA for more details about a January 2014 infiltration of the department’s eBenefits website that compromised the data of 5,000 veterans.

Warren described the VA’s continuous work to bolster its cyber defenses, including rolling out the latest features from the Department of Homeland Security’s network monitoring programs.

“We’re building barriers; we’re building depth,” he said.

But the number of cyberattacks across the government is only growing.

“Nothing I do will reduce what’s coming at me one bit,” Warren said.