Hackers have stolen highly sensitive personal and investigative information from a US Marshals Service computer system, the government agency said this past Monday(2/27/23). According to a spokesman for the service, the data included personal information on investigative targets and agency employees.

The service, which is a division of the Justice Department, keeps data on the protection of judges, the federal witness protection program, and the transportation of federal prisoners. However, a senior law enforcement official said the hackers did not get into the witness protection database, although they gained access to information on some fugitives that federal authorities were seeking.

Drew J. Wade, the Marshals Service spokesman, said hackers used ransomware to carry out the breach, on February 17th and it was a significant incident. Wade said the service disconnected the system after the attack. The government has been struggling to protect sensitive data from hackers, but such attacks through ransomware have increased in recent years. The department is investigating the attack, as the service seeks to limit the risk the theft poses.

In recent years, hackers have accessed databases in several government agencies as various illegal groups continue to acquire tools and expertise to steal data and extort cash from private victims, besides disrupting infrastructure in corporations. An anonymous US official said the hack was destructive, but the administration was not ready to place blame on anyone publicly for it.

Responding to the breach, Microsoft said it had identified over 40 government agencies, non-governmental organizations think tanks and IT companies infiltrated by the hackers. The tech giant said four in five were in the United States — nearly half of them tech companies, while its victims were also in Canada, Belgium, Mexico, Spain, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.

Security experts said it seems the perpetrator’s intentions were espionage and collecting information rather than destruction and, if that is the case, they achieved their goals.