40 million potential spies
Internet opens gates to Pentagon computers
May 23, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 a.m. EDT
From Correspondent Dick Wilson
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Warnings of potential "catastrophic damage" to Defense Department computers are contained in the new report from the U.S. General Accounting Office. Investigators say that thousands of times each year, computer hackers break in to military Internet sites to steal and destroy both data and software.
According to the Pentagon's own estimates, such break-ins may be attempted up to 250,000 times a year. For every 150 attempts, only one is detected and reported to defense officials.
The Pentagon says most of the information is unclassified, but could include sensitive details on troop movements and weapons purchases.
The GAO told the Senate Subcommittee on Defense Information that every computer terminal hooked up to the Internet is a possible point of entry for saboteurs.
"Every node is a potential spy," Keith Rhodes of the GAO said in response to questioning by Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia. In all, there are 40 million such "nodes," he said.
"So we really are in a whole new world of information, a whole new world in espionage and sabotage and disruption," Nunn said.
"Absolutely," answered Rhodes. (255K AIFF sound or 255K WAV sound)
Jack Brock, director of the Defense Information and Financial Management Systems at the GAO, told the subcommittee that the Department of Defense's own internal controls were able to breach security 65 percent of the time.
Most-sensitive data not at risk
The Pentagon insists its classified computers are secure, safe from hackers. It says the most sensitive military computers are not linked to the Internet, but the Pentagon admits Internet attackers are an increasing threat to computers containing unclassified data.
The GAO report says classified information such as war planning data or top secret research is generally safer from attack since it is protected on computers isolated from the Internet, encrypted, or only transmitted on dedicated, secure circuits.
The GAO also told senators of an infamous attack two years ago. Hackers closed down key parts of a U.S. Air force computer for more than a month, at a military research facility in Rome, New York. One suspect was arrested: a 16- year old British boy who called himself the "datastream cowboy."
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