April 7, 2009

Cyber Attacks Costly To Pentagon

Senior military authorities said Tuesday that the Pentagon spent in excess of $100 million during the last six months repairing damage and responding to cyber attacks and other network problems.

Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, said the military is only just starting to track the costs, which are spurred by non-stop daily attacks against military networks from the Pentagon to various bases throughout the country.

"The important thing is that we recognize that we are under assault from the least sophisticated "” what I would say the bored teenager "” all the way up to the sophisticated nation-state, with some pretty criminal elements sandwiched in-between," an AFP report cited Chilton as saying.

The cyber-criminals' motives include everything from espionage to vandalism, he added.

"This is indeed our big challenge, as we think about how to defend it."

Army Brig. Gen. John Davis, deputy commander for network operations, said the funds were spent on computer technology, staff, and contractors that were hired to clean up after external investigations and internal errors.

Strategic Command is responsible for monitoring and protecting the military's network, as well as directing offensive cyber warfare.

Authorities did not disclose how much of the $100 million in costs were a result of external system attacks versus viruses and other issues caused accidentally by Defense Department employees. They also declined to provide any details about suspected attacks targeted at the Pentagon by other nations, such as China.

Addressing reporters from a conference in Omaha, Nebraska, the military leaders said the U.S. must proactively increase its investments in the military's computer capabilities, instead of spending millions on repairs.

"You can either pay me now or you can pay me later," Davis told the AFP.

"It would be nice to spend that money proactively ... rather than fixing things after the fact."

Although there has been no shortage of anecdotal evidence on the spending estimate, officials said they only began keeping track last year.  Furthermore, they are unsure if they have identified all the costs related to shutting down their networks down once a problem is noticed.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that its enormous computer network is probed and scanned by external forces millions of times each day. 

Indeed, one cyber attack last year forced the Department of Defense to take 1,500 computers off line.  Last fall, the department prohibited the use of external computer flash drives because of a virus threat detected on the Pentagon's network.

The latest cost estimates come as the Obama administration finalizes a sweeping government-wide analysis of the United States' cybersecurity.


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