Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Military Girds for New Threat - Hackers the Air Force's First Information Warriors Fend off Electronic Foes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Military Girds for New Threat - Hackers the Air Force's First Information Warriors Fend off Electronic Foes

Article excerpt

In a high-security complex laden with computers, the United States Air Force is doing battle with silent and invisible enemies that many fear could wreak havoc on the country's security without ever firing a shot.

The foes include computer hackers or others who aim to penetrate or destroy computer systems and databases that are the technological backbone of the US military and make it the most powerful in history.

The job of figuring out how to defend the Air Force's computers belongs to Walter (Dusty) Rhoads and Andy Weaver, lieutenant colonels who oversee the 609th Information Warfare Squadron. The high-tech unit, which is headquartered here at Shaw Air Force Base and armed with off-the-shelf computers, was the first of its kind created by the Pentagon. The formation of the squadron underscores a growing apprehension in the American defense establishment. The concern is that military computers - as well as the systems that run vast portions of the country's communications, power, and commercial infrastructure - may be susceptible to attack by foreign powers. There are already ample grounds for concern. Experts point out that in 1995, the Defense Department detected at least 250,000 efforts to hack into its databases. Many are believed to have been successful. The Pentagon is upgrading computer security. Concerns over the vulnerability of the country's military and civilian computer systems grew after the 1991 Gulf war. The US-led Operation Desert Storm decimated the Iraqi military by destroying its ability to communicate, thereby showing that battles can be won and lost by warriors as skillful with Pentium processors as they are with cruise missiles. Among the 609th's tasks are developing defensive measures that can be used across the Air Force, where databases do everything from plotting air campaigns to transmitting classified materials. "It used to be, if you were rough enough and tough enough, you could roll over anybody. …

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