Cyberattacks on U.S. military systems rise

Published 8 December 2009

In 2000, there were 1,415 cyber attacks on U.S. military networks; in all of 2008 there were 54,640 malicious cyber incidents targeting DoD systems; in the first six months of 2009 tThere were 43,785 such incidents.

Cyberattacks on the U.S. Department of Defense — many of them coming from China — have increased sharply this year, according to congressional testimony last month. Citing data provided by the U.S. Strategic Command, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that in all of 2008, there were 54,640 malicious cyber incidents targeting DOD systems. There were 43,785 such incidents in the first half of this year. If that rate of growth continues, cyberattacks will be up 60 percent this year. “Much of this activity appears to originate in China,” the report stated. “[A] large body of both circumstantial and forensic evidence strongly indicates Chinese state involvement in such activities.”

Robert McMillan writes that according to the report, the U.S. military spent $100 million to fend off those attacks between September 2008 and March 2009.

Attacks on DOD systems have been rising steadily for years. In 2000, for example, only 1,415 incidents were reported. The increase is in part due to the fact that the U.S. military is now better at identifying cyberthreats, said Chris Poulin, chief security officer at Q1Labs Inc. and formerly a manager of U.S. Air Force intelligence networks. The figures are “probably more accurate now” than they were nine years ago, he said.

Security experts have long known that many computer attacks originate from Chinese IP addresses, but the decentralized nature of the Internet makes it very difficult to determine whether an attack actually originated in China or just used Chinese servers as steppingstones. Poulin said that his company’s U.S. corporate clients are seeing attacks from China, North Korea, and the Middle East. “We do definitely see patterns coming from specific nation-states,” Poulin noted.