Print 23 comment(s) - last by AntDX316.. on Aug 28 at 12:51 AM

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

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