Magazine article National Defense

Defense Data 'Jewels' to Remain Vulnerable

Magazine article National Defense

Defense Data 'Jewels' to Remain Vulnerable

Article excerpt

The U.S. Defense Department must do more to protect its computer networks, which are increasingly critical to military operations, according to a growing consensus among defense experts.

Known as "cyber attack" or "information warfare," this new style of combat is not a theoretical threat for the future. It is taking place here and now, defense officials and experts said.

In all, during the years 1999 through 2002, the department plans to spend $3.6 billion on computer security.

The attacks come primarily over the Internet, which the Defense Department helped develop.

The Defense Department, as a whole, now has more than 1.5 million computers, 28,000 systems, 10,000 networks, and 1,000 Web sites. They are used to conduct almost all of the department's business, from sending messages, to ordering supplies, to paying troops, to keeping track of medical records.

Every month, defense computers issue about 10 million paychecks. They write about 800,000 travel vouchers. One of the department's finance centers disburses $45 million an hour. Computers are essential to the nation's defense, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre told reporters.

"If someone can come in and disrupt those computers, change the data or send misleading messages, they could do tremendous damage to a military operation," said Hamre.

In addition to day-to-day business operations, many of the nation's modern, computer-guided weapons systems are vulnerable to cyber attack.

"The advantages afforded by smart weapons can be negated if access to the information needed for their use is denied or delayed, or, alternatively, if this information is compromised or exploited," Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, told a recent congressional hearing. He added:

"A $1 million cruise missile becomes an errant dumb bomb without the essential and validated mission data necessary to accomplish its mission."

Enemies of the United States, defense officials said, are all too aware of its dependence on information and are willing to take advantage of it. Hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks occur each year, according to estimates by the Defense Information Systems Agency. The number of attacks is doubling each year. Some examples:

* The U.S.-led NATO's Web site in Brussels recently was subjected to electronic bombardment-also known as "pinging"-from Yugoslavia, disrupting access to the site. Computer operators in Belgrade sent NATO thousands of emails a day. Some contained viruses.

* Web sites at the White House, Senate, Interior Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation recently came under attack from a loose-knit, underground network of computer hackers.

* While the United States was preparing for possible military operations against Iraq in 1998, key parts of the Defense Department's computer system were targeted in a series of attacks, dubbed "Solar Sunrise" by investigators.

The attackers' goal typically is to gain access to military computer files and then to steal information, to alter or to delete it.

The vast majority of attacks are carried out by amateur computer hackers, attracted by the "challenge" of breaking into the Pentagon computers, analysts said. Most fail to penetrate beyond the networks open to the public, which contain no classified information and pose no national security concerns. This turned out to be the case with the "Solar Sunrise" attacks, which resulted in the arrest of two 16-year-old boys in California.

Jewels of Information

"Since the information in our networks is a `crown jewel' in the information age, we are relentlessly pursued by a host of hackers and crackers trying to get that information," said Lt. Gen. William J. Donahue, director of Air Force Communications and Information. "We have taken several steps to counter this threat." They include establishment of:

A Defense Joint Counterintelligence Program to reduce risks posed by foreign intelligence services or terrorists to the department's critical information systems, infrastructure and technologies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.