The Most Significant Breach of U.S. Military Computers Ever

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A top Pentagon official has confirmed a previously classified incident that he describes as ‘the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever,’ a 2008 episode in which a foreign intelligence agent used a flash drive to infect computers, including those used by the Central Command in overseeing combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Brian Knowlton, in a NYTimes.com article gives us the rundown on what happened, and what this all means to the military and to the future of cyberdefense and the U.S. Cyber Command.

Deputy Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn III, referred to the breach as “…a network administrator’s worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary,” and he also describes it as “a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control.”

The nightmare of this happening to the military is enough to keep you awake at night, and thinking of this closer to home doesn’t make sleep come that much sooner.

Think of your own office where USB flash drives, removable disk drives and cell phones are making it easier than ever for employees who need to transfer large files. It’s harder than ever for companies to monitor and protect sensitive information.

Portable devices are far too easily lost or stolen, and while most employees have good intentions, USBs are one of the easiest ways for insiders to compromise business-critical information. IT managers need to make it easier for people in their organization to move information securely. By decreasing reliance on transferring physical media and focusing more on easy-to-use browser-based or email plug-in solutions, information will be better governed.”
Frank Kenney, VP of Global Strategy at Ipswitch File Transfer.

Last year (2009) there was a study by the Ponemon Institute of nearly 1,000 recently terminated individuals. The study revealed that 42% of them used USB memory sticks to take business data and that 38% sent documents as attachments to personal email accounts.

Digital beachhead” is such a great way to put this, especially coming from Deputy Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn III. The images one can conjure up of storming the “digital beach” and imagining the data security version of those first 15 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” is truly powerful stuff and should keep us up a little later at night.

Give Knowlton’s article a read and if you’re interested in hearing more from Frank Kenney on this topic, check out his surprised reaction at a recent RSA event.

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