Hackers break into US gov't travel site, feed users attack code

GovTrip.com still offline a week after the attack

A travel reservations Web site used by several US federal agencies was hacked last week, and shunted unsuspecting users to a malicious domain, according to information Computerworld has obtained.

The site, Govtrip.com, is currently unavailable to federal employees through their offices' intranet; the version accessible via the public Internet is also offline.

Sometime before February 11, hackers breached the site, then modified it to redirect users to a rogue URL that in turn directed attack code against their systems, according to the General Services Administration (GSA), and e-mail sent to federal workers that Computerworld has seen.

"Last week, some users of GovTrip, when logging on to the GovTrip site, were redirected to a site that delivered malicious software to their computers," an e-mail sent to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) read. "The incident, which also affected other Federal agencies, was quickly identified by systems security. At this time, the GovTrip site is not safe to use and should not be accessed."

Wednesday, GSA spokesman Robert Lesino confirmed the GovTrip hack, and said the redirect hit users on February 11. "The incident was quickly identified," said Lesino, who declined to answer specific questions, citing the ongoing investigation. He also said that no user information was believed to have been compromised by the hack.

GovTrip is used by several US government agencies, including the EPA, the Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation and the Treasury Department to make travel reservations, as well as to reimburse workers for travel expenses. The site is operated by defense contractor Northrop Grumman from a northern Virginia office.

As of mid-day Wednesday, GovTrip remained offline. "GovTrip.com is currently unavailable," a message on the site read. "All travelers who need to make travel reservations should contact their Agency Travel Management Centers," a message read.

The message to EPA employees said that the agency did not know when the site would be brought back online.

Also unknown is the malware that tried to infect workers' PCs when they accessed GovTrip last week. Lesino, of the GSA, said that the hack had been reported to the US Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), as is standard practice. US-CERT, however, does not publicly disclose the details of the incident reports it receives from federal agencies.

This is not the first time a site or server related to the government has been breached. Last week, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) admitted hackers had broken into an agency's network, and may have stolen medical records of some 45,000 current and former employees.

"The GSA, the vendor, and customer agency IT specialists are moving swiftly to identify short-term and long-term measures to find the source of the incident and to prevent such an incident from recurring," Lesino said.

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Gregg Keizer

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