WASHINGTON — An infected flash drive inserted into a Defense Department computer in 2008 caused “a significant compromise” of the department’s classified computer networks and was a “wake-up call” for Pentagon officials to expedite cyber defense measures, the deputy secretary of defense revealed in a new magazine article.
The previously classified incident caused the most significant breach ever to U.S. military computers, William J. Lynn III wrote for an article appearing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
Titled “Defending a New Domain,” the article outlines the evolution of computer network threats and measures the department has put into place to deal with them. The frequency and sophistication of intrusions into U.S. military networks have increased exponentially in the past 10 years, Lynn wrote. They now are probed thousands of times and scanned millions of times, every day, he added.
Sometimes the adversaries are successful, Lynn said, and they have acquired thousands of files from Defense Department networks and those of the Pentagon’s industry partners and U.S. allies, including weapons blueprints, operational plans and surveillance data.
To counter the threat, the Pentagon has built “layered and robust defenses” around military networks and created the new U.S. Cyber Command to integrate processes, Lynn said. Department officials are working with their counterparts at the Homeland Security Department, which has jurisdiction over the “dot-com” and “dot-gov” domains, to protect the networks.
The Defense Department has 15,000 networks and 7 million computing devices in use in dozens of countries, with 90,000 people working to maintain them, Lynn said, and it depends heavily on commercial industry for its network operations.
“Information technology enables almost everything the U.S. military does,” Lynn wrote, from logistical support and command and control to real-time intelligence and remote operations. Any future conflict will include cybersecurity, he has said.
In his article, Lynn outlines five pillars of the department’s emerging cybersecurity policy:
— Cyber must be recognized as a warfare domain equal to land, sea, and air;
— Any defensive posture must go beyond “good hygiene” to include sophisticated and accurate operations that allow rapid response;
— Cyber defenses must reach beyond the department’s dot-mil world into commercial networks, as governed by Homeland Security;
— Cyber defenses must be pursued with international allies for an effective “shared warning” of threats; and
— The Defense Department must help to maintain and leverage U.S. technological dominance and improve the acquisitions process to keep up with the speed and agility of the information technology industry.
Pentagon officials are developing a cyber strategy document to be released in the fall. It will address, among other things, any statutory changes needed for cyber defense, and the capability for “automated defenses,” such as the ability block malware at top speed, Lynn has said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)