Federal 'fix' knocks ca.gov for a loop

Even the government shudders when someone says they're from the government and they're here to help.

Case in point: A hacker's diversion of traffic from a California county government Web site to a porn purveyor spiraled into IT chaos yesterday after a countermeasure applied from Washington essentially "deleted the ca.gov domain."

Order was restored only after seven hours of frenzied coast-to-coast communications and a "forced propagation" of ca.gov network systems, according to Jim Hanacek, public information officer for the California Department of Technology Services.

"We don't for sure have the whole picture, but as we understand it, there was some event at the Transportation Authority of Marin County where their site got hacked," Hanacek told me this afternoon. Traffic was being redirected from that site to one featuring pornography.

A department within the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington oversees and polices the .gov domain.

"The federal government saw this incorrect use of ca.gov and they made a change at a much more global level than probably was necessary and it started taking down all of our ca.gov domain," says Hanacek. "That impacted Web access and e-mail services."

A Network World reader whose brother works for a California state agency forwarded me an e-mail alert that his brother received: "The Department of Technology Services (DTS) has notified us that the Federal Government inadvertently deleted the CA.GOV domain. As the evening progresses you may experience an impact in your ability to access some Web sites and exchange e-mail. DTS is working with their federal counterparts to restore service as quickly as possible but service may not be restored until tomorrow morning."

The change from Washington was made around noontime yesterday on the West Coast ... and things quickly got worse.

"Unfortunately there was no prior notification, they just made the change and sent us an e-mail to one of our administrators who wouldn't be a normal contact," Hanacek says. "Once that person saw the e-mail and started looking we determined how serious this could be and we opened our emergency operations center. Unfortunately that was about 3 in the afternoon and folks back East were already going home, so it took us some time to get hold of the right people in the General Services Administration to get this address reinstated."

Those corrections began between 4 and 5 p.m. PDT but didn't restore full normalcy until about 7:30 p.m.

Hanacek indicated that California's IT people will be having a chat with their Washington counterparts: "We'll certainly be discussing how we should be notified of a change of this magnitude."

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