Network intrusions can blunt US military edge, Lynn says

Military plans, weapons systems designs at risk of being compromised

The heavy reliance of the U.S. military on computer networks to give it an edge over its adversaries also leaves it painfully vulnerable to disruption by groups or nations bent on compromising its advanced capabilities through cyberattacks, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said June 16.

“Information technologies have revolutionized how our militaries organize, train and equip,” Lynn told participants June 16 at the International Workshop on Global Security in Paris. “They are at the core of our most important military capabilities — communications, command and control, navigation, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.”

Network exploitation continues to be the most prevalent cyber threat to the Defense Department and U.S. military forces, Lynn said.

As an example of the glaring vulnerabilities inherent in network-enabled warfare, Lynn cited a 2008 incident when a foreign intelligence agency used a thumb drive to infiltrate DOD classified computer systems — something the military thought at the time was impossible.

“It was our worst fear: a rogue program operating silently on our system, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of the enemy,” he said.

The list of such exploitations continues to grow. On the military side, foreign intelligence services have exfiltrated military plans and weapons systems designs, while on the commercial side they have stolen valuable source code and intellectual property from U.S. businesses and universities, he said.

“This kind of cyber exploitation does not have the dramatic impact of a conventional military attack,” he said. “But over the long term it has a corrosive effect that in some ways is more damaging. It blunts our edge in military technology and saps our competitiveness in the global economy.”

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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