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Hundreds of computers must be replaced to cleanse the agency of malicious code, including rootkits and spyware. An attack against computers of the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) -- the branch of Commerce responsible for overseeing U.S. exports which have both commercial and military applications -- forced BIS to turn off Internet access in early September.
"This [Commerce attack] is the third or fourth battle that we've lost to China," said Richard Stiennon, principal analyst with security consultancy IT-Harvest. "It's not a digital Pearl Harbor, not yet, but it's getting closer." Although Stiennon said he doesn't have any inside information on the most recent attack, the evidence points to state-sponsored hacking. "The continuous nature of these attacks means there is a link to a state source," Stiennon said. "The Chinese are waging very effectual intellectual warfare." An unnamed senior Commerce official also said the department has decided it could not trust the computers -- which were infected with rootkits -- and will replace them rather than try to clean them. In the meantime, BIS workers have been hampered by the inability to easily communicate with other federal and state agencies, or with the companies applying for export licenses.