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Government ethics office web site hacked

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Unidentified hackers have shut down the federal government's main employee ethics website, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Web visitors to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics website are greeted with a stern announcement stating, "Due to a significant and unexpected problem, our website is currently unavailable." A static slate offers a few phone numbers and an email address.

Vincent Salamone, an agency spokesman, confirmed the OGE web site was the victim of hackers. He said he believed the site has been down since June 10, but he wasn't quite sure.

The office is a small agency within the executive branch that oversees compliance by federal employees with standards of conflicts and conflicts of interest, especially among members of the Senior Executive Service and presidential appointees.

The OGE was created in 1978 with passage of the Ethics in Government Act. The OGE director is a presidential appointee who is confirmed by the Senate.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-profit government ethics watchdog group, said the cyber attack on OGE "seems like an accident. It's really hard to fathom."

"I don't know understand why someone would want to shut down OGE's site. First of all, you'd have to know what OGE is, and how obscure an agency it is," she said

Salamone said officials have not identified the hackers but that that the agency's website runs on a software system called Ektron CMS, which was recently part of a larger attack by cyber intruders.

"Our understanding is that other websites using this system may also have been hacked," he said.

"We took our system off-line to ensure the integrity of our website and to protect our website's visitors," the spokesman said. "Currently, a technical team is working to restore service."

Ektron is a Nashua, New Hampshire-based web management company that has signed 94 contracts with federal departments and agencies valued at $1.9 billion, according to USASpending.gov.

Ektron has provided services for many lesser-known federal departments ranging from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the National Science Foundation.

Activist hackers have frequently attacked U.S. Government web sites. A coterie that goes by the name Group Anonymous last month launched concerted attacks against a slew of government agencies.

Dubbed OpUSA, the hackers tried unsuccessfully to shut down web sites at the U.S. Department of Defense, the Pentagon, the National Archives, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the White House.

Salamone said "we have no evidence that the hackers affected our website's content, which consists of publicly available information. Our understanding is that other websites using this system may also have been hacked," he said.

"We took our system off-line to ensure the integrity of our website and to protect our website's visitors," the spokesman said. "Currently, a technical team is working to restore service."

But Fred Bals, the manager for media relations at Ektron disputed the agency's claim, asserting that only OGE was targeted.

"As far as we can determine, it was an attack on that specific site. It's not a widespread problem. There are no other Ektron clients that were taken down at that time," Bals said.

Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at rpollock@washingtonexaminer.com.

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