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A single malware-infected USB stick led to huge 2008 compromise of U.S. Central Command's classified and unclassified systems in Iraq. The attack was conducted by a foreign intelligence agency; Russia is suspected.  (Source: Cocos Promotions)

The U.S. government also has to worry about betrayal within. It's giving 19 year olds access to its most sensitive systems. And U.S. Army specialist Bradley Manning showed the folly of that policy when it was recently alleged that he betrayed that trust, passing classified documents to foreign nationals.  (Source: Telegraph UK)
The purposeful attack occurred in 2008 in the Middle East and led to the theft of classified information

In a Foreign Affairs journal post, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III reveals that in 2008 the U.S fell victim to an insidious cyber assault.  

The August 25 post describes how an infected flash drive was plugged into a single U.S. military laptop in the Middle East and "spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control."

The result was the most dangerous cyber attack in U.S. history.  Both classified and unclassified infected systems were communicating with and exposed their information to foreign servers.  Based on the location of those servers, past reports indicate that the U.S. government suspects the attack originated from Russia; in the article Secretary Lynn only refers to it as originating from "a foreign intelligence agency".

Since the incident, the U.S. military initially banned flash drives from use with its systems, but has since relaxed that provision slightly.  Its efforts are now focusing on "active defense systems", an attempt to try to be more vigilant for possible malware or attempts to communicate with untrusted servers.

Secretary Lynn says his reason for publishing details of severe assault was to raise public awareness to the growing threat of cybersecurity.  He says that defending our nation in a sometimes hostile internet-savvy world is "not easy".

Unlike forward-looking fictional works like 
The Neuromancer that depict a futuristic internet-connected U.S. that acts as a cyber aggressor, recent U.S. government reports indicate that the government instead has evolved into somewhat of a "cyber weakling" in terms of security.  

The U.S. government is struggling to leverage the substantial security talent of its nation's citizens like China or Russia.  The result is that the U.S. government and its contractors have fell victims to several attacks.  The U.S. has also fallen victim to cyberintrusions from foreign sources into critical free market entities like power utilities.

The government has also fallen victim to sabotage from within, as showcased by the recent arrest of 19-year-old U.S. Military specialist Bradley Manning.  Manning allegedly broke the law and military protocol, leaking what now appears to be hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to whistle-blowing website 
Wikileaks.  Manning's actions were never discovered by the U.S. Armed Forces; he was only caught via the fateful decision of a former convicted U.S. hacker, with whom he confided in.

Under former President George W. Bush and now under President Barack Obama, the government has promised to step up its act, working to develop a more cohesive plan for cybersecurity.  President Obama in February 2009 appointed the nation's first Security Czar, Melissa Hathaway.  Ms. Hathaway, a former director of national intelligence under the Bush administration was tasked with coordinating inter-agency cybersecurity efforts.  

But in a sign of what disarray the nation's efforts remain in, Ms. Hathaway resigned in August 2009.  She has since been replaced by Howard Schmidt, a former chief security executive at Microsoft with 31 years' experience in law enforcement and the military, who was appointed in December to the post.

There are currently a number of proposals on the table to create some form of new agency (like the CIA, FBI, etc.) tasked with U.S. cybersecurity at home and abroad.  One of the bills looks to create a bureau called the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC), which would be a sub-bureau of the Department of Homeland Security.

The incident described by Secretary Lynn -- catastrophic actions originating from packages malware aboard a USB stick -- immediately brings to mind a recent incident, in which malware aboard a USB stick attached to a Spanish airline computer interfered with its communications contributing to its crash. (which occurred in 2008).  The infection slowed down system alerts at the airline's headquarters which could have canceled or delayed the flight.  Both the new report from the Pentagon and the recently published details on the Spanair incident reveal the steep costs of cybersecurity breaches in an increasingly connected world.

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US Army Security
By sviola on 8/26/2010 12:06:28 PM , Rating: 3
I find it amazing that someone could even connect any usb drive to a classified system (and also that there are media recorders on them - these should be restricted to a couple of machines that are only accessible by a few users with the proper permissions). They should just not have usb ports to connect thumb drives and also, classified systems should not be accessible from unclassified networks.

RE: US Army Security
By marvdmartian on 8/26/2010 12:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the time, government computer stations are nothing more than off the shelf computer systems (hardware), running the government's version of whatever Windows OS they happen to be using at that moment in time (currently Vista, supposedly starting the switch to 7 before the end of this calendar year).

Even if they were going to custom build PC's to use in these systems, they would have to disable the onboard USB ports on the motherboards. That runs into problems with accessories that also run off of USB, like a keyboard or mouse.

Nowadays, all government computers are set up so that if you plug in an unauthorized USB device (be it a jump drive, memory card reader, even portable hard drive), the computer will shut down within 30 seconds, and the user will be locked out until they can:
1. explain why the did what they did to their commander (boss)
2. re-take the training they took that told them not to do it in the first place.

Only certain USB flash drives are authorized to be used in government computers, even the ones that cannot access sensitive data. They are VERY expensive (thousands of dollars per flash drive), and have to be physically set up and okayed by the "comm" (IT) section, prior to use.

RE: US Army Security
By sviola on 8/26/2010 12:45:04 PM , Rating: 2
Well, that sounds like a good solution that has been applied. But even then, 30 seconds seems to me like enough time for someone to copy data he shouldn't move from the system. There are pen drives that can write up to 30MB/s. Considering someone could get a steady 20MB/s transmission, he could move almost 500 MB in 25s and if it is compressed data, that means he could be copying 2 GB of data (I got this 4x compression rate from a text document I have recently compressed).

RE: US Army Security
By HercDriver on 8/26/2010 12:18:22 PM , Rating: 2
Just remember that the bell curve of human intelligence applies to the military, too. We have our share of idiots, and some of them have access to classified information. I wish it weren't so, but there's only so much you can do. We are getting better, but still have a long way to go, especially given the speed of huge bureaucracies.

RE: US Army Security
By bh192012 on 8/26/2010 12:36:52 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't these people watch the updated Battlestar Galactica?

RE: US Army Security
By Dorkyman on 8/26/2010 1:05:12 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't these people watch "Independence Day?"

There is an alien race out there that knows all too well the damage a computer virus can inflict.

Surely we should have learned our lesson from them.

RE: US Army Security
By Amiga500 on 8/27/2010 3:48:55 AM , Rating: 2
USB stick my ar$e.

It was obviously Blackout...

RE: US Army Security
By AntDX316 on 8/28/2010 12:51:50 AM , Rating: 2
it's all 0's and 1's just as we r all molecules and energy

By DEVGRU on 8/26/2010 10:09:58 AM , Rating: 4
NO comments about Wikileaks or Assange? Impressive. Most impressive.

RE: What?
By Verun on 8/26/2010 10:20:57 AM , Rating: 2
Lol, that's what I thought too.

RE: What?
By Lord 666 on 8/26/2010 12:33:05 PM , Rating: 4
Doesn't count since Mick put a picture of his boy toy Manning on there.

Come on!
By Ammohunt on 8/26/2010 1:52:46 PM , Rating: 3
The U.S. government also has to worry about betrayal within. It's giving 19 year olds access to its most sensitive systems.

I held a clearance at age 18 in the ARMY never once did i ever think of giving away National Secrets(the thought never entered my mind). Perhaps is a generational thing kids nowadays lack concrete core values.

RE: Come on!
By foolsgambit11 on 8/26/2010 2:48:15 PM , Rating: 2
I got my TS/SCI clearance at age 20 in the Army, and of course I and (most of) the people I work with were very trustworthy. And the same applies today as it did 5, 10, 20, and 50 years ago. The vast majority of young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are not a problem. What has changed is the amount of damage that one-in-a-million kid can do. Being connected to SIPR or JWICS now gives you access to many orders of magnitude more classified information than the battalion filing cabinet of old did. That is the concern the military has to address - how do you give young intel analysts access to all the material they need to do their jobs well and simultaneously do all you can to protect that material?

RE: Come on!
By Ammohunt on 8/26/2010 4:04:05 PM , Rating: 2
I still think outside of stupid mistakes it’s a huge jump to intentionally compromise classified information despite the plethora of information an individual is exposed to. Maybe they need to consider finer grained need to know compartmentalization.

Logic Bomb
By Desslok on 8/26/2010 11:42:59 AM , Rating: 3
Russia may have gotten us this time, but if you look back on history they have also had their own "oops" episodes. The KGB stole some software from a Canadian firm to control one of their big natural gas pumping stations in 1982. Only to have to have said pumping station explode in what was called the biggest non nuke explosion ever seen by our early warning sats.

Google “trans-Siberian gas pipeline” + “logic bomb"

RE: Logic Bomb
By HercDriver on 8/26/2010 12:14:24 PM , Rating: 2
I just did google those terms. I guess you didn't see the part about it being revealed as an April fools' day joke (by the author of the story, not from the USA to the USSR, which would be the ultimate April fool joke). There was an explosion in 1982, but the Soviets said it was faulty equipment, much smaller than 3 kilotons, and repaired within a day. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm sure there were many more examples of the US messing with the Soviets' computer systems.

Can you imagine, though...BOOM! Ha, Ha, April Fools!

USB sticks
By fic2 on 8/26/2010 1:18:51 PM , Rating: 2
An article I read a couple of years ago was about a security company that tested security for clients. One of the things they said they did was drop a couple of USB sticks in the parking lot. These had auto-run programs on them that opened up a hole to the internet.

I think they said that was the easiest way to get into a company. Of course, they could also mail them to certain employees as a "demo" for a car or something and it do it's deed in the background.

That Thumbdrive...
By Sazabi19 on 8/26/2010 2:33:53 PM , Rating: 2
Is a Spy!!!

I call BS on Russia doing this.
By Mithan on 8/26/2010 8:20:57 PM , Rating: 2
Russia knows the US is going to collapse soon.

DT Get your Facts Straight
By zephyrwind69 on 8/26/2010 11:08:48 PM , Rating: 2
I was aghast at this article citing the Spanair flight a day after DT spread a false story about the same flight.

The USB stick infected the ground crew's systems, which prevented an alert from being raised after 3 subsequent failures. When the plane landed it was investigated for mechanical failure and sent onto's proven that the fault of the flight crashing was pilot error. Even if the alarm was raised, the same ground crew Ok'ed the flight and the same crash would have happened.

It's a shame if you only trust DT....The same false article is still #1 in Google, it's a shame you can't do proper journalism and get your facts straight.

So...did Russia even introduce an infected USB stick or was this another case of bad journalism? Well I don't know and after yesterday I'm sure taking DT with a grain of salt.

Russia is expected... to do what?
By trajan on 8/26/2010 10:41:46 AM , Rating: 1
A single malware-infected USB stick led to huge 2008 compromise of U.S. Central Command's classified and unclassified systems in Iraq. The attack was conducted by a foreign intelligence agency; Russia is suspected . (Source: Cocos Promotions)

fixed :)

Good article; well written
By LyricalGenius on 8/26/10, Rating: -1
RE: Good article; well written
By trajan on 8/26/2010 12:11:31 PM , Rating: 1

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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