On Bush's Watch, U.S. Suffered Its "Electronic Pearl Harbor"

Sunday's 60 Minutes featured a pretty terrifying report on the potential threat the United States faces from cyberterrorism. It's territory that the show has mined before.

As Steve Kroft pointed out at the outset of the report, the show had "less than a decade ago" gone to the Pentagon to learn more about how computers could be used by hackers "as a weapon." "Much of it was still theory," Kroft related, "But we were told that before too long, it might be possible for a hacker with a computer to disable critical infrastructure in a major city, and disrupt essential services, to steal millions of dollars from banks all over the world, infiltrate defense systems, extort millions from public companies, even sabotage our weapons systems."

Eep! Sounds like someone better get on that, before something terrible happens! Except guess what, something terrible already did. "Plus a lot that we don't even know about," Kroft said. Great.

Enter Jim Lewis, who directs the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who says that the United States experienced its "electronic Pearl Harbor" in 2007:

LEWIS: Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we don't know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department of Energy, probably NASA. They broke into all of the high tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information.

Lewis goes on to point out that the entire Library Of Congress is the equivalent of 12 terabytes, so that sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? And it's not like hackers were making off with William Faulkner novels!

And last November, according to Lewis, "someone was able to get past the firewall and encryption devices of one of the most sensitive U.S. military computer systems and stay inside for several days." That system? The CENTCOM network, which you might know as "the people who are fighting all of our wars." The hackers were able to sit inside the network, tracking information and documents "like they were part of military command."

This, Lewis said, is the "most significant" breach of security ever "acknowledged by the Pentagon." Not acknowledging this, however, is the Bush administration, on whose watch all of this happened. Asked why the public was never told about the extent to which the United States had already suffered significant cyber-casualties, Lewis said: "You know, I've been trying to figure out why that is. And some of it is the previous administration didn't want to admit that they had been rolled in 2007." Worse yet, in Lewis' estimation, the seriousness of the threat, even now, "doesn't seem to be sinking in."

Hopefully, Liz Cheney will find some way to waterboard the Internet!


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