Cyberattack Reveals Cracks in U.S. Defense
Although the feds aren't talking publicly about a three-years-plus cyberattack believed to be coming from Russia, a member of the U.S. National Security Agency's Advisory Board says the case, dubbed "Moonlight Maze," reveals huge cracks in the U.S. government's defense system.
"The fact of the matter is our defense is a shambles, really," says James Adams, who also is chair of security consultancy IDefense, based in Fairfax, Virginia.
"We need a deterrent strategy for cyberspace just like we have for nuclear war or conventional war," he says. "The Department of Defense has to step up to the plate because they have the capability and the responsibility."
Adams, the author of a book on cyberwarfare as well as a former writer and Washington bureau chief for the London
The Moonlight Maze stealth attack, which has targeted
The hackers, Adams says, have managed to sneak into those computer networks and leave so-called back doors, which can consist of code or instructions planted into existing systems that easily enable hackers to slip back into a system and steal information or do other damaging things.
Investigators don't yet know how many systems have been penetrated, exactly how they've been compromised, or who is responsible, though some of the attacks appear to have originated from Russian Internet addresses, according to Adams.
U.S. officials complained formally to the Russian government last year to no effect, Adams says. Calls to the State Department to confirm this were not returned, and a spokesperson from the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center declines to comment.
Adams says he believes the attacks are a concentrated or coordinated effort. Possible suspects include organized crime or other groups that can make money from selling sensitive U.S. information, but Adams says he thinks the Russian government is involved, or at least tolerating, the actions.
Russian hackers have been linked to a number of cases of online theft of credit cards and extortion, including a case involving the credit card numbers of 300,000 CD Universe customers last year. In March the FBI warned companies conducting business online of the threat posed by organized hackers in Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet countries. However, the e-commerce-related hacks, investigations into which the Russian government has cooperated in, are not related to the Moonlight Maze case, Adams says.
In 1999 and 2000, there were more than 1300 cyberattacks on the Air Force, Army, and Navy sites, and more than 700 of them were "serious," according to the General Accounting Office. The FBI is looking into more than 100 cases involving computer intrusions into more than 1200 government systems, National Infrastructure Protection Center Director Ronald Dick told Congress last month.