By Josh Rogin
Feb. 13, 2007
NORFOLK, Va. -- At the Naval Network Warfare Command here, U.S. cyber
defenders track and investigate hundreds of suspicious events each day.
But the predominant threat comes from Chinese hackers, who are
constantly waging all-out warfare against Defense Department networks,
Netwarcom officials said.
Attacks coming from China, probably with government support, far
outstrip other attackers in terms of volume, proficiency and
sophistication, said a senior Netwarcom official, who spoke to reporters
on background Feb 12. The conflict has reached the level of a
campaign-style, force-on-force engagement, he said.
They will exploit anything and everything, the senior official said,
referring to the Chinese hackers strategy. And although it is impossible
to confirm the involvement of Chinas government, the attacks are so
deliberate, its hard to believe its not government-driven, the official
The motives of Chinese hackers run the gamut, including technology
theft, intelligence gathering, exfiltration, research on DOD operations
and the creation of dormant presences in DOD networks for future action,
the official said.
A recent Chinese military white paper states that China plans to be able
to win an informationized war by the middle of this century. Overall,
China seeks a position of power to ensure its freedom of action in
international affairs and the ability to influence the global economy,
the senior official said.
Chinese hackers were responsible for an intrusion in November 2006 that
disabled the Naval War Colleges network, forcing the college to shut
down its e-mail and computer systems for several weeks, the official
said. Forensic analysis showed that the Chinese were seeking information
on war games in development at NWC, the official said.
NWC was vulnerable because it was not part of the Navy Marine Corps
Intranet and did not have the latest security protections, the official
explained. He said this was indicative of the Chinese strategy to focus
on weak points in the network.
China has also been using spear phishing, sending deceptive mass e-mail
messages to lure DOD users into clicking on a malicious URL, the
official said. China is also using more traditional hacking methods,
such as Trojan horse viruses and worms, but in innovative ways.
For example, a hacker will plant a virus as a distraction and then come
in slow and low to hide in a system while the monitors are distracted.
Hackers will also use coordinated, multipronged attacks, the official
Chinese hackers gained notoriety in the United States when a series of
devastating intrusions, beginning in 2003, was traced to a team of
researchers in Guangdong Province. The program, which DOD called Titan
Rain, was first reported by Federal Computer Week in August 2005.
Following that incident, DOD renamed the program and then classified the
That particular set of hackers is still active, the Netwarcom official
said. He would not confirm whether the Titan Rain group was linked to
the NWC attack or any other recent high-profile intrusions.
Other senior military officials have spoken out recently on U.S. cyber
strategy, saying the country urgently needs to develop new policies and
procedures for fighting in the cyber domain.
Current U.S. cyber warfare strategy is dysfunctional, said Gen. James
Cartwright, commander of the Strategic Command (Stratcom), in a speech
at the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., last week. Offensive,
defensive and reconnaissance efforts among U.S. cyber forces are
incompatible and dont communicate with one another, resulting in a
disjointed effort, Cartwright said.
Gen. Ronald Keys, commander of Air Combat Command, told reporters at the
conference that current policies prevent the United States from pursuing
cyberthreats based in foreign countries. Technology has outpaced policy
in cyberspace, he said.
The United States should take more aggressive measures against foreign
hackers and Web sites that help others attack government systems, Keys
said. It may take a cyber version of the 2001 terrorist attacks for the
country to realize it must re-examine its approach to cyber warfare, he
Netwarcom officials described their approach as an active defense, in
which monitors build defenses around the perimeter of DOD systems, work
to mitigate the effects of attacks and restore damaged parts of the
Meanwhile, the consolidation of DODs cyber resources is ongoing.
Netwarcom works directly with the Joint Task Force for Global Network
Operations, DODs lead agency on network defense and operations, a
component of Stratcom.
Netwarcom, the Navys lead cyber agency, is moving from monitoring the
networks to full command-and-control capabilities. The Air Force
announced in October 2006 that it will create a Cyber Command, based on
the infrastructure of the 8th Air Force under Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, at
Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to coordinate its cyber warfare efforts.
In the end, the cyberthreat is revolutionary, officials said, because it
has no battle lines, the intelligence is intangible, and attacks come
without warning, leaving no time to prepare defenses. Education and
training of computer users, not enforcement, are the most effective
defense measures, officials said.
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