April 29, 2009
By Peter Brookes
America needs to pay a heckuva a lot more attention to the
Sure, the Pentagon is refuting a Wall Street Journal report last
week that hackers pinched loads of data on the military's newest,
high-tech fighter aircraft from contractors' computer networks via
But even if the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program wasn't
actually penetrated by cyberspies, it's still a chilling wake-up
call for the United States.
The computer systems of the F-35 Lightning were penetrated
"repeatedly," according to the newspaper, allowing cyber cat
burglars to "copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related
to design and electronic systems."
The Pentagon and the contractors are insisting that no
classified information was stolen -- and that's likely the case, as
classified computer systems aren't supposed to be hooked up to the
But it's definitely possible that data related to the warbird
were taken, as any computer system that has a ramp onto or off the
international information superhighway is vulnerable to penetration
by crooks, spies or curious hackers.
Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident.
America and others are under constant -- and, in many cases, at
this stage, totally undetectable -- attack by cyberintruders who
secretly slink their way into home and office computers via the
No surprise, really: Such computer operations are hot because
they're low cost, highly effective, and provide cover for the
hackers, who route attacks through lots of surrogate servers across
the globe and can access your hard drive without leaving fully
Cybersoldiers, spies or other mischief-makers sponsored by
malicious governments or others can launch viruses, crash networks,
corrupt data, collect intelligence and spread misinformation from a
laptop just about anywhere.
And the risks and costs compared with using human spies or
soldiers are just about negligible -- at this point, anyway.
No wonder, then, that more than 100 countries are developing the
ability to use the Web for spying or as a weapon, including China,
Russia, Iran and North Korea, according to estimates by
cybersecurity firms and US intelligence.
In recent years, the threat has grown from probes by amateur
hackers to premeditated, government-sponsored assaults for the
purposes of penetrating or affecting political, military, economic
and industrial information or operations.
It's not only government and industry networks that are of
interest but also such "soft targets" as Wall Street. Even such
critical civilian infrastructure as the national
air-traffic-control system is the cybercrosshairs.
Not long ago, it was reported the Chinese and Russians had
"mapped" America's electrical power-grid networks, which would
almost surely be hit with a cyberattack if there were ever a
Just think of the havoc and distraction the national command
authorities could face if the lights were to go out across the
country at the same time a conflict were to break out involving US
That's scary stuff -- and just one example.
The F-35 case is just the most recent in a series of cautionary
tales about our nation's slavish dependence on computers and
information technology -- and the vulnerability it engenders.
Lots of countries and other bad actors see cyberspace as a
strategic domain for asymmetrically undermining America's
political, military, economic and cultural clout.
Government rumblings, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates'
creation of a Pentagon cybercommand, may hold some promise in
protecting military networks, but the cyberthreat clearly exceeds
It's time for a comprehensive, implementable plan for protecting
this country's critical public and private computer networks from a
threat that's here and now.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for
National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage
First appeared in the New York Post
America needs to pay a heckuva a lot more attention to the cyberthreat. Now.
Protect America Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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