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01 December 2008, 12:07

Malware attack increases US concern over cyber defences

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An attack last week on US military computers caused the US Department of Defence to take the apparently unusual step of briefing President Bush. The DoD said, although their systems are under constant attack, most of this of a fairly low level. This attack was of an entirely different order, as a spokesperson said "This one was significant; this one got our attention".

Although for obvious reasons the DoD are being economical on details, they have said that the attack targeted U.S. Central Command networks overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan operations, affected combat zone computers and penetrated at least one highly protected, classified network. Experts are saying that the intrusive malware appears to have been specifically crafted for attacks on military networks. Although newspaper reports have speculated that Russia is responsible for the attacks, it is not clear this is the official opinion of the US government.

As long ago as 1991 in a paper entitled "Computers at Risk," the National Research Council said “We are at risk. America depends on computers. They control power delivery, communications, aviation, and financial services. They are used to store vital information, from medical records to business plans, to criminal records. Although we trust them, they are vulnerable – to the effects of poor design and insufficient quality control, to accident, and perhaps most alarmingly, to deliberate attack. The modern thief can steal more with a computer than with a gun. Tomorrow's terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard than with a bomb."

Today the concern is that, despite this early warning, relatively little has been done to minimise this risk and that this is only becoming evident as more of these type of attacks are successful.

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