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Amateur hacks into Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada computers

In September 2008, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) IT system administrator discovered that an external party had hacked into two Linux servers and installed modified e-mailing software. The evidence trail pointed to a “script kiddie” – an amateur who uses readily available malicious software to attack computer systems and networks, usually for kicks.

Though unsophisticated, the breach nevertheless threatened approximately 60,000 personal data records of agricultural producers who were recipients of the Advance Payments Program (APP), a federal loan guarantee program administered by third parties.

The exposed data included personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, loan amounts and repayments. While it was technically feasible to copy the data, AAFC found no evidence that this occurred.

As a result of this incident, AAFC took immediate action to assess the extent of the intrusion and to minimize further compromises to its systems. The department reviewed all firewall and e-mail logs for the two weeks before and after the intrusion, and removed any data from the APP secure copy server that was not required for immediate business needs.

The institution also continued to explore ways to reduce risk and to detect and mitigate incidents in a more timely fashion.

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