The U.S. Defense Department has revealed a foreign government accessed 24,000 classified files in a cyberattack earlier this year, highlighting the need for its newly unveiled strategy to counter cyberthreats.
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said Thursday the attack in March was just one of a number of security breaches to U.S. defense computer networks. These attacks have compromised some of the Pentagon's “most sensitive systems,” including surveillance and satellite communications.
He did not say which government was behind the March incident, but China has been blamed for some attacks in the past.
In a speech at the National Defense University, Lynn said the Pentagon is actually more worried about cyberattacks by terrorist organizations than by other governments. He said terrorists are more likely to hack into a network in order to damage and disrupt the power grid or financial systems.
The government's new cyberstrategy focuses mainly on defending computer networks from intrusions — by keeping workers alert against viruses, building more resilient network systems, and collaborating with other federal agencies, private companies and foreign allies.
But Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman James Cartwright told reporters this new strategy is inadequate. In an interview before Lynn's speech, Cartwright said the government needs to develop a more aggressive strategy to show attackers they will face a steep penalty for trying to break into U.S. networks.
He said the Pentagon is still figuring out the legal precedents governing this relatively new field.