Computers and information networks at the National Defense University (NDU), the Joint Chiefs military education school at Fort McNair in Washington, were hacked and damaged by unknown attackers, defense officials said.
The attacks, described by officials only as “malicious activity,” caused the university to shut down all its network servers and replace laptop computers after the activity was detected last month. The costs were high, officials said.
Officials close to the situation said the computer intrusions were identified during routine maintenance and led to suspicions that the hackers had planted clandestine “trap doors” into the system that would allow them future access, or would facilitate computer attacks.
The only way to ensure the security of the systems was to replace them, we are told.
The shutdown forced the university’s faculty and students to rely on personal e-mail and laptops, limiting work at the school.
NDU spokesman Dave Thomas declined to comment when asked about the hacking but said some laptops were replaced for faculty members.
Officials would not say where the attacks originated, but the shutdown of the entire computer network at NDU lasted from Dec. 18 until earlier this week. Official suspicions are focused on Chinese hackers, based on similar attacks on Pentagon and military computer networks.
Chinese-origin computer attacks, most likely government-sponsored action by hackers, crippled information systems at the Naval War College in Rhode Island in November and forced a similar collegewide shutdown.
Chinese hackers also were involved in the electronic theft in 2005 of hundreds of evaluation reports on Air Force officers, ranging from generals to captains. The information in the reports would be valuable to Chinese intelligence for its targeted agent recruitment efforts.
The U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of Defense Department computer security, issued an alert Nov. 17, calling for raising the security alert level for about 12,000 Pentagon computer networks and 5 million computers.
The United States thinks an air strike Monday in southern Somalia may have wounded an al Qaeda-trained leader of the most violent militia that helped seize the capital, Mogadishu, earlier this year.
Defenses sources said Aden Hashi Ayro, who led the Hizbul Shabaab, a violent army of young Islamists within the Somalian Islamic Courts Union, “is thought to have been wounded.” The Islamic Courts Union captured the capital last year, but a combined Ethiopian-Somalian government force routed the Islamists last month and regained Mogadishu.