U.S. under growing cyber attacks

Published 18 February 2009

The number of cyber attacks on U.S. government computers and networks grow; there were 5,488 tracked incidents of unauthorized access to U.S. government computers and installations of hostile programs in 2008, compared to 3,928 such incidents in 2007, and 2,172 in 2006

The number of reported cyberattacks on U.S. government computer networks rose by more than 40 percent last year. An AFP report, citing data obtained from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), said there were 5,488 tracked incidents of unauthorized access to US government computers and installations of hostile programs in 2008. There were a combined 3,928 such incidents in 2007, and 2,172 in 2006. “Government systems are under constant attack,” Joel Brenner, counterintelligence chief in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told AFP. “We’re seeing … a dramatic, consistent increase in cyber crime (and) intelligence activities,” Brenner added.

More infiltrators were trying to plant malicious software on U.S. government computer systems in a bid to control or steal sensitive data. AFP says the data obtained from US-CERT may represent only a “small sampling” of the total number of incidents because “just one percent of federal agencies have fully developed tracking systems.” At the same time, some of the increase may reflect better reporting, says Mischel Kwon, who heads US-CERT at DHS.

President Barack Obama last week ordered a sweeping review of U.S. cybersecurity to protect the government’s information technology systems from security and economic threats. The 60-day review is to be overseen by Melissa Hathaway, a former official in George Bush’s administration who coordinated cyber monitoring for the director of national intelligence. During the election campaign, Obama equated cyber risks to the threat of nuclear or biological attack and promised a high-level review if he became president.

A congressional panel warned in November that China had developed a sophisticated cyber warfare program and stepped up its capacity to penetrate U.S. computer networks to extract sensitive information. A December report by the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency told the new leader that cybersecurity was “among the most serious economic and national security challenges we will face in the 21st century.”