Pentagon 'at war' with computer hackers
March 5, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Defense Department is in a state of "cyberwar."
Pentagon computers are under a "coordinated, organized" attack from hackers, according to Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pennsylvania, who held a classified hearing on the problem.
Weldon told CNN Thursday night that Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre briefed lawmakers at last week's hearing on a specific breach of cyber security that represents a "coordinated, organized" attempt to gain access to classified information in Pentagon computers.
"There is an attack under way. You can basically say we are at war," Weldon said.
One defense official said that the FBI is leading an investigation of a series of "attack incidents." She could not provide details of the inquiry but said that 60-80 attacks were recorded daily on the Defense Department's computer systems.
"We have people working 24 hours a day to monitor our networks and all of these protective measures are in place," the official said.
Pentagon sources say investigators traced a number of the attacks to sites in Russia, but it was not known whether the sources were government or non-governmental.
Investigators also could not rule out the possibility the computer attacks were coming from elsewhere and were simply channeled through Russia.
Classified Air Force computer systems at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, came under attack on January 7 and 8 from a number of locations around the world, sources told CNN, but they were detected and stopped by newly developed Defense Department systems.
Weldon says this was "not a typical hacker," and that the attacks seemed to be targeting specific systems.
Hamre reportedly told the closed-door hearing that military security analysts had uncovered and stopped computer hackers who had found a new way to attack open Pentagon networks on the Internet.
The New York Times reported Friday that Hamre said this new method of hacking had been discovered by analysts at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia.
The specialists at Dahlgren found a method to thwart these "low level probes" that differed from the more frequent assaults on security systems and alerted all the military services to the new problem and provided a remedy for it.
Pentagon officials say no classified computer systems have been breached, but Rep. Weldon said there was fear that the attackers may have penetrated systems that could lead to access to classified systems.
A year ago, Hamre told lawmakers about Solar Sunrise, a series of attacks in February 1998 that targeted Pentagon computers.
"The attacks were widespread, systematic and showed a pattern that indicated they might be the preparation for a coordinated attack on the Defense Information Structure," said Hamre of Solar Sunrise in his unclassified written testimony Tuesday.
"The attacks targeted key parts of Defense Networks at a time we were preparing for possible military operations against Iraq."
The Solar Sunrise incident led to the establishment of 24-hour, 7-days-a-week online guard duty at important military computer sites.
This increased vigilance has led, in turn, to increased reports of cyber attacks, officials say.
There have been a string of embarrassing hack attacks on the Pentagon's computer systems in recent years, many of them by teen-age computer whiz kids.
A 20-year-old Israeli hacker, who said he broke into Pentagon computers out of hatred for organizations, was charged in Jerusalem last month with conspiracy and harming computer systems.
Ehud Tenebaum, known as "Analyzer", collaborated with a U.S. teen-ager known as "Makaveli" in the hack attacks. At the time of his arrest, Tenebaum claimed to know ways into some 400 U.S. Defense Department computer systems.
The U.S. Justice Department said last year that while intrusions into U.S. military computers were treated as serious incidents, no classified information had ever been compromised.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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