Report: Cyberattacks against the U.S. "rising sharply"

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Updated Monday, Nov. 23, 2009 at 10:06 a.m. EST

A new report prepared for Congress found that the number of cyberattacks against the U.S. government is “rising sharply” in 2009, and many of the attacks are coming from Chinese state and state-sponsored entities.  

During 2008, there were 54,640 total cyberattacks against the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), according to the report, citing data provided by U.S. Strategic Command officials.

The number of instances significantly increased in the first half of 2009, when there were 43,785 cyber incidents targeting the DoD, the report states. If this volume is maintained for the rest of the year, it will represent a 60 percent increase over 2008.

The 367-page report, prepared by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and released Thursday, details cyberattacks targeting the United States as part of a study of how China's activities impact U.S. national security.

The number of cyberattacks steadily has been increasing during recent years, the report states. The amount of attacks increased 20 percent last year, from 43,880 in 2007 to 54,640 in 2008.

“China is and will continue to be the fastest growing country in terms of computers going online annually,” Marcus Sachs, director of the SANS Internet Storm Center told SCMagazineUS.com in an email Friday. “We should expect the amount of traffic coming from China to increase, including both legitimate business as well as attacks and malicious behavior.”

These cyberattacks are both damaging and costly, the report states. The military has spent more than $100 million in the first six months of 2009 repairing damage to its networks caused by cyberattacks, Army Brig. Gen. John Davis, deputy commander for network operations, revealed this April.

While it is difficult to determine the origin of cyberattacks since hackers are apt at concealing their locations, circumstantial and forensic evidence indicates that many of the attempted intrusions aimed at the DoD are coming from the Chinese government and other state-sponsored entities, the report states.

The Chinese government has established cyberattack and defense capabilities within the People's Liberation Army, and during times of peace, their digital activities are focused on gathering intelligence against U.S. targets, the report states.

An ongoing campaign since 2007 to steal sensitive information from U.S. government and defense contractor networks has amounted to 10 to 20 terabytes of data loss, much of which appears to be orchestrated by the Chinese, according to a separate report released in October, which was prepared by defense contractor Northrop Grumman for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

During times of conflict, Chinese military doctrine calls for the exploitation of vulnerable U.S. critical infrastructure targets, the report states.

“The PRC [People's Republic of China] is also recruiting from its growing population of technically skilled people, including those from the private sector, to increase its cybercapabilities,” the report states. “It is recruiting skilled cyberoperators from information technology firms and computer science programs into the ranks of [the] Information Warfare Militia unit."
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