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Federal agencies hit by fewer cyberattacks in 2019, White House says

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U.S. federal agencies saw the number of cybersecurity incidents in which they were targeted or otherwise affected fall by 8% last year, according to a report issued by the White House.

It shows that government agencies were impacted by 28,581 security incidents in fiscal year 2019, down from the 31,107 cyber incidents that were reported by federal agencies in the previous fiscal year. 

Published by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, the report says that improper usage of government services was the most common type of cyber incident in 2019 -- 12,507 instances compared to 9,674 the year before. 

According to the report: “The prevalence of this incident vector indicates that agencies have processes or capabilities that detect when a security policy is being violated, but lack automated enforcement or prevention mechanisms.”

Other common breaches included email and phishing attacks (4,388), web attacks (1,982) and loss or theft of government equipment (1,885). 

The U.S. federal government counts fiscal years as beginning on Oct. 1 and ending on Sept. 30, so fiscal year 2019 ended Sept. 30, 2019.

Quarter of incidents had unknown sources

But perhaps most concerning is that 25% of recorded incidents (7,240) were unknown vectors, with officials suggesting that the government should take additional steps to help agencies identify the sources of these incidents.

There were three incidents that required the government to publicly disclose them as they comprised user data.

On Jan. 31, 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shared the personal information of 895,000 disaster survivors with a third-party volunteer organization. 

On Dec. 3, 2018, FEMA’s National Emergency Management Information System Information Assurance system was found to be sharing the information of disaster victims with a temporary accommodation contractor, including 2.5 million hurricane survivors.

The third incident, on June 3, 2019, occurred when a contractor responsible for making license plate readers used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection was impacted by a ransomware attack that allowed the attackers to get hold of photos of license plates and drivers.

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