SolarWinds hack targeted nearly 2 dozen federal prosecutors offices, including some of the most influential in the country like the Eastern District of New York

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department of justice building
REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst
  • The emails of federal prosecutors' offices around the country were hacked by Russian intelligence during the SolarWinds cyber attack.

  • The Russian hackers had access to the emails of federal prosecutors in New York, California, DC and other jurisdictions from May to December 2020.

  • The Justice Department released the update to "increase transparency" with the public as it continues to investigate the hacking.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Federal US prosecutors were among targets of the Russian hackers behind the 2020 SolarWinds cyber attack, the Justice Department said on Friday.

According to the update, the SolarWinds hackers breached the Department's Microsoft O365 email accounts, which included the mailboxes of federal prosecutors from New York, Los Angeles, and prominent offices in 13 other states.

At least one employee email at each of the affected district offices was hacked, and at least 80% of employees in the four major US attorneys' New York district offices -- the Eastern, Southern, Western and Northern -- had their accounts hacked, the DOJ said. Hackers gained access to all sent, received, and stored emails and attachments in those accounts, though it is unclear which information the hackers took.

"New York is the financial center of the world and those districts are particularly well known for investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes and other cases, including investigating people close to the former president," Bruce Green, a Fordham Law School professor, told the Associated Press.

"In Los Angeles, federal prosecutors are regularly handling high profile criminal investigations that include a lot of non-public information, including pending public corruption investigations, organized crime investigations, and complex domestic and international financial frauds," said Rebecca Lonergan, a USC Gould Law School professor and former federal prosecutor who has tried corruption, national security, and espionage cases. "Prosecutors use email to communicate within the office and with main DOJ about those cases on a daily basis."

Lonergan operates out of the Central District of California, which was one of the districts whose offices were targeted by the hack.

The hackers probably could not access classified materials, Lonergan added, as they are not kept on servers connected to the internet. However, some case files accessed in the hack may contain information that could be used for political blackmail or to compromise ongoing investigations.

US federal investigators said Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) was responsible for installing malicious malware into SolarWinds' Orion software in 2020. The US information technology firm has more than 300,000 clients, including US government agencies and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies.

The group is believed to have had access to the emails from May to December of last year.

After learning these accounts were hacked, the Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer cut off the channel the hackers used to the Microsoft Office accounts, notified the affected parties and the public, and is continuing to monitor the security risks associated with the hack.

The Justice Department released the update to "encourage transparency and strengthen homeland resilience," and so that others can "use that information to prepare themselves for the next threat," the updated statement said.

The US Department of Justice could not be reached at the time of publication.

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