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But classified systems remain safe so far

Source: ZDNet UK

Posted on May 21, 2001

      Unidentified hackers have been trying to break into Defence Department computer networks in a constant push to disrupt US military forces, the Pentagon's chief information officer said on Thursday.

      "DOD is probed on a daily basis by those who are trying, or planning to disrupt our nation's military capabilities," acting Assistant Secretary of Defence Linton Wells told a House Armed Services subcommittee.

      Last year, attackers pierced unclassified Defence Department networks 215 times, up slightly from 1999, but classified systems remained inviolate, said Army Maj. Gen. David Bryan, commander of the military's recently renamed joint task force for computer network operations. "To my knowledge we have not had any successful intrusions into our classified networks," he told the panel on military readiness, chaired by Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania.

      Bryan said the culprits, often using hacker tools widely available on the Internet, could be anyone from children to criminals to guerrillas or hostile governments.

      "We have to continue to improve (network defences) because the threat continues to improve," he said, referring to the department's more than 2 million computers, 100,000 local-area networks and 100 long-distance networks.

      Overall, 23,662 "incidents" involving Defence Department networks were reported to the joint task force last year, up from 22,144 in 1999. But fewer than 2 percent, or 413, were determined to be malicious, according to the task force, which is part of the US Space Command headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

      The other 23,249 incidents were classified as "routine" probes and scans of the type sent by automated hacking tools that randomly probe for network vulnerabilities that could be used for electronic break-ins.

      Wells, who is responsible for command, control, communications and intelligence, said the Defence Department was "greatly accelerating" the development of technologies to detect and respond to cyber attacks against critical US infrastructure.

      Current intrusion detection techniques are "extremely limited" in their ability to identify attacks, notably "distributed denial of service" blitzes aimed at swamping targeted Web sites with suddenly launched traffic, he said.

      This year the Defence Department plans to introduce new ways to identify, analyse and determine the source of such attacks and take protective steps "in near real-time", Wells said.

      The task force, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is also developing cyber weapons of its own for possible use in future conflicts. But Bryan told lawmakers he would discuss "network attack" at a classified session only.

      The Space Command assumed responsibility for defending Defence Department computers in October 1999, adding the attack mission the following year.

      Before formation of the joint task force, no single entity had the authority to coordinate and direct a Defence Department-wide response to a computer network blitz.

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