NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 18, 2009

Reported cyber attacks on U.S. government computer networks climbed 40 percent last year, says USA Today.

Federally tracked accounts of unauthorized access to government computers and installations of hostile programs rose from a combined 3,928 incidents in 2007 to 5,488 in 2008.  Yet, only 1 percent of federal agencies have fully developed tracking systems to monitor hacking, and the government remains tight-lipped on details concerning the number or types of attacks that succeed.

Still, these reports are the best public accounting of such attacks and underscore concerns driving federal cyber security initiatives.  They show that:

  • Government networks are targeted by foreign nations seeking intelligence, such as China and Russia, as well as criminal groups and individuals who may want to disrupt power, communication or financial systems.
  • Some attackers may be less interested in stealing data than in undermining a system's ability to operate, such as by planting software that could slow critical networks in emergencies.
  • Security officials are especially alarmed about phishing, in which seemingly legitimate e-mails solicit sensitive information, and "Web redirects," which shunt a computer to a Web site where it downloads malicious software.

As part of a Comprehensive Cyber Security Initiative launched by President Bush, the government has cut the number of portals linking federal computer networks to the Internet from 4,500 to 2,500.  This success has prompted further action from President Obama, who recently named Melissa Hathaway, head of Bush's cybersecurity initiative, to run a 60-day review of federal cybersecurity programs.

Source: Peter Eisler, "Reported raids on federal computer data soar," USA Today, February 17, 2009.

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