A federal program to protect confidential information within the computer networks of various federal agencies is seven years behind schedule, the Baltimore Sun has reported.

The Sun exclusively reported in its Sunday editions that the number of attacks against Pentagon computer networks jumped from fewer than 800 in 1996 to more than 160,000 last year. Thousands were successful.

Meanwhile, a National Security Agency (NSA) initiative, launched in 1999, to encrypt networks and improve access controls for millions of people who log on to government computer systems was supposed be completed last year, the paper said, citing intelligence officials and unclassified NSA documents. The deadline was pushed back to 2012, with the brunt of improvements slated for 2018.

"Much of the existing cryptographic equipment is based on…technologies that are 20-30-plus years old," an NSA report said, adding that hacking technology has improved giving "our adversaries enhanced capabilities," according to the newspaper.

Last week, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered government agencies to improve their security controls within 45 days.

The missive was a firm reminder from government overseers at OMB that information security must be improved to protect citizens – particularly after the public fallout following the loss of millions of Department of Veterans Affairs’ records.

Pentagon computers constantly are under attack. Sources told the Sun that Chinese hackers recently hijacked a classified computer system of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and made off with confidential data.

NSA spokesman Don Weber told the paper in a statement that "any speculation that we, along with our partners, would leave national security systems vulnerable is unfounded."

Intelligence officials did say that he NSA is re-evaluating its security program.