Alarm Sounded as Cyber Attacks on U.S. Defense Base Multiply

 - August 15, 2011, 5:05 AM
At least six U.S. government agencies and 13 defense contractors were victims of a recent cyber attack. (Image: Fotolia)

Newly released information on cyber attacks against the U.S. government and defense industry suggest that classified information may have been compromised on a grand scale. Web security company McAfee reported last week that at least six U.S. federal government agencies and 13 defense contractors had been attacked as part of a wider operation that penetrated 72 organizations in 14 countries since at least 2006. Last month, a senior Pentagon official said “terabytes” of data had been extracted from corporate networks of defense companies by “foreign intruders.” McAfee discovered what it described as “the biggest transfer of intellectual property in history” after gaining access to one of the command-and-control servers that collected data from the hacked computers, including some on classified government networks. McAfee concluded that “a state actor” was responsible, but declined to identify potential culprits. The server was located in a Western country, company official Toralv Dirro said. In many other reports on cyber-attacks, China has been blamed. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn similarly declined to identify hackers, or the hacked. But he noted that “sophisticated cyber capabilities reside almost exclusively in nation states.” He revealed that in 2008 “a foreign intelligence agency penetrated our classified computer systems.” Last March, 24,000 files were penetrated at a defense contractor, probably by a foreign intelligence service, he added. The stolen data has included avionics, surveillance technologies, satellite navigation and communications systems, and missile tracking systems, as well as information on UAVs and the F-35. “We need to do more to guard our digital storehouses of design innovation,” he said. Lynn described a new DOD cyber strategy to cope with the coming possibility of disruptive attacks against critical networks, as well as the current threat of data theft. It includes the Defense Industrial Base Cyber Pilot program to share cyber threat information with selected defense contractors, on a voluntary basis. Lynn and other officials refused to comment on U.S. offensive cyber capabilities. Meanwhile, media reports from Tel Aviv claimed that Israel has set up a “cybercommand” to wage computer war against Iran. Tehran has reported two more malware attacks on government computers since the 2009 Stuxnet virus attacked its nuclear program.