Information Warfare: Another Pentagon Network Penetrated

December 21, 2006: Yet another U.S. Department of Defense organization is having its computer systems shut down and closely examined for evidence of successful hacker penetration. This time it's the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, DC. Last month, it was the Navy War College in Rhode Island. NDU is similar to the War Colleges each of the services have, but teaches subjects of use to all military officers, and at a somewhat higher level.

The NDU situation is different from that of the Navy War College. There does not appear to be a hacker attack, or at least one that was obvious. Instead, the NDU is shutting down its network (including email access) for a month, to coincide with the break between semesters, for "maintenance". No one is giving out details, so it appears that there is suspicion that the NDU network was penetrated, but that the intrusion was not detected. This is what hackers always try to do. Get in without being seen, so you can collect useful data for as long as you can remain hidden. These are the most dangerous penetrations, and hacker groups (especially those sponsored by criminal gangs and governments) are getting better at pulling off this sort of thing. The United States has organizations that develop penetration tools, and others that study hostile hackers, and what they do. It is known that the number of undetected penetrations is going up, and it may be anticipation of that, which is shutting down the NDU networks for a month.

The NDU computers contain much more valuable data than can be found at the Navy War College. If the NDU system has been penetrated, you not only want to find out that, but also when, and to what extent.

If NDU was hit, and the attack was traced back to China, it would be the fourth time in six months that this has happened. Chinese hackers were believed responsible for the penetration at the Naval War College servers. The results of that investigation may be related to all the activity at NDU.

The Department of Defense has a lot to worry about, because they have more computers (about five million) than people (about three million). These PCs are operating on some 12,000 different networks, and most of these are in turn connected with the Internet.

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