Hackers have been in the news many times over the past year — Target’s data breach affected over 70 million people, and more lately, a worldwide group of hackers attempted to disrupt Israeli government websites. But this week, the General Services Administration (GSA) realized that they had been hacked in a far different way: hackers had managed to steal over $1.5 million in printer cartridges from government groups including the GSA, EPA, and FBI.
The hackers apparently ordered the HP printer toner cartridges from multiple vendors by posing as federal contracting officials. They were able to use official federal employee credentials, and simply combined them with fake telephone numbers, email addresses, and stolen credit cards.
Several of the orders were for as much as $20,000. One of the companies that facilitates contracts for the GSA belatedly noted that their officials should be more wary of “unusually large quantities, or high value orders,” as well as shipments going to unusual addresses.
Law enforcement officers have said that cases like these have been on the rise, and targeting multiple aspects of law enforcement, not just printer cartridge orders. There has long been contention between the U.S. government and hackers, who are often able to use advanced technology to evade the long arms of the law.
Many of these issues came to a head with the 2013 persecution and subsequent suicide of Aaron Swartz. Swartz was an American computer programmer and internet activist. After downloading several academic journals, he was arrested by MIT police and charged by federal prosecutors with wire fraud and 11 violations of Computer Fraud, which could have led to $1 million in fines and 25 years in prison. Two days after his plea bargain was denied, Swartz was found dead, hung in his Brooklyn apartment. The case called into question both the actions of the government, and issues with closed access to scholarly data.
The future of hacks done to government websites and services remains uncertain– without doubt, though, officials will need to remain vigilant, as approximately 30,000 websites are successfully hacked each and every day across the web.
While some may find it odd, not everyone is surprised that this kind of attack has taken place.
“There are a lot of high prices when it comes to toner and ink cartridges,” says Chris Kovacs, General Manager of Absolute Toner. “It sounds like something that could easily happen, and I’m not surprised. Everyone is trying to save a few bucks.”