Computer Hackers Could Disable Military

By Gertz, Bill | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

Computer Hackers Could Disable Military


Gertz, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Senior Pentagon leaders were stunned by a military exercise showing how easy it is for hackers to cripple U.S. military and civilian computer networks, according to new details of the secret exercise.

Using software obtained easily from hacker sites on the Internet, a group of National Security Agency officials could have shut down the U.S. electric-power grid within days and rendered impotent the command-and-control elements of the U.S. Pacific Command, said officials familiar with the war game, known as Eligible Receiver.

"The attack was actually run in a two-week period and the results were frightening," said a defense official involved in the game. "This attack, run by a set of people using standard Internet techniques, would have basically shut down the command-and-control capability in the Pacific theater for some considerable period of time."

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, "Eligible Receiver was an important and revealing exercise that taught us that we must be better organized to deal with potential attacks against our computer systems and information infrastructure."

The secret exercise began last June after months of preparation by the NSA computer specialists who, without warning, targeted computers used by U.S. military forces in the Pacific and in the United States.

The game was simple: Conduct information warfare attacks, or "infowar," on the Pacific Command and ultimately force the United States to soften its policies toward the crumbling communist regime in Pyongyang. The "hackers" posed as paid surrogates for North Korea.

The NSA "Red Team" of make-believe hackers showed how easy it is for foreign nations to wreak electronic havoc using computers, modems and software technology widely available on the darker regions of the Internet: network-scanning software, intrusion tools and password-breaking "log-in scripts."

According to U.S. officials who took part in the exercise, within days the team of 50 to 75 NSA officials had inflicted crippling damage.

They broke into computer networks and gained access to the systems that control the electrical power grid for the entire country. If they had wanted to, the hackers could have disabled the grid, leaving the United States in the dark. …

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