Defense Department computers severely hacked in widespread electronic attack that may have originated in Russia

November 29, 2008

WASHINGTON (ChattahBox) – A severe and widespread electronic attack on Defense Department computers that may have originated from Russia, forced senior military leaders to take the exceptional step of briefing President George W. Bush. The first indication of a problem in the Pentagon’s computers was noticed last week, when officials banned the use of external computer flash drives. However, officials at the time did not indicate the extent of the attack or the fact that it may have targeted Defense Department systems.

The attack struck hard at military networks within U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and affected computers in combat zones. The attack also penetrated at least one highly protected classified network.

one Defense Department official who requested anonymity said, “This one was significant; this one got our attention.” However officials withheld many details. Military computers are regularly beset by outside hackers, computer viruses and worms. But Defense officials said the most recent attack involves an intrusive piece of malicious software apparently designed to target military networks. Computer warfare one day could be used to undermine even an adversary with a superior military, said defense analysts.

U.S. officials have worried in recent years about the possibility of cyberattacks from other countries, especially those originating in China or Russia, whether sponsored by governments of those countries or launched by individuals. An electronic attack from Russia shut down government computers in Estonia in 2007. Officials think a series of electronic attacks were launched against Georgia at the same time as hostilities erupted between the governments in Moscow and Tbilisi last summer. The suspicions of Russian involvement come at a delicate time because of growing tension over U.S. plans to develop a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Military electronics experts have not pinpointed the source or motive of the attack and could not say whether the destructive program was created by an individual hacker or had Russian government sponsorship. The Defense Department official said the military also has not learned whether the software designers may have been targeting computers used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In response to the attack, the U.S. Strategic Command has enhanced security measures on military networks. The offending program has been cleansed from a number of military networks. But officials said they do not think they have removed every bit of infection from all Defense Department computers.


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