The Pentagon’s massive worldwide computer networks were hit with a major malicious software attack in 2008 through a computer flash drive inserted into a computer. The electronic strike was a watershed event that triggered cybersecurity improvements and a temporary ban on the use of portable storage devices, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said Tuesday.
Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Strategic Command, told a House hearing that such penetrations are an example of the types of threats facing the military as it gears up for computer warfare and the creation of a new cyberwarfare command.
“We can anticipate that adversarial actors will make cyberspace a battle front in future warfare,” Gen. Chilton said. “Even today, intrusions and espionage into our networks, as well as cyber-incidents abroad, highlight the unprecedented and diverse challenges we face in the battle for information.”
Gen. Chilton described the penetration as a “serious intrusion” he called a “seminal event” for the military and Pentagon.
Defense officials said at the time that the sophisticated electronic computer break-in likely was carried out by the Chinese government or military, although attributing it directly to Beijing was difficult.
Lt. Cmdr. Steve Curry, a Strategic Command official, said later that the 2008 attack involved “particular variants of computer worms” that “infected computers worldwide and targeted Microsoft Windows operating systems.” He declined to provide further details, citing security considerations.
Gen. Chilton said that as a result of hacking, “our forces developed new network monitoring and evaluation systems and grappled with the security needs of sprawling networks where low cost and efficiency have often taken priority over security.”
Strategic Command is moving ahead with plans announced in October to set up a new U.S. Cyber Command near the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md.
In a first step, two units already are being consolidated. The Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, which conducts cyberdefense, is being put together with the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare, the offensive cyberwarfare component, he said.
“We’ve already started to unify those two mission areas,” Gen. Chilton said.
The new subcommand has been delayed by the Senate, which has yet to hold hearings on the nomination of its commander, current NSA Director Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander.
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Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...
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