July 16th, 2009
06:59 PM ET

Growing threats of cyber attacks in the U.S.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/07/08/government.hacking/art.computer.gi.afp.jpg caption="Government and private Web sites were recently hit in a cyberattack"]

Suvro Banerji
AC360° Intern

The United States government faces an increasingly formidable threat: a cyber attack.

The term ‘cyber attack’ is used to define the use of computers and the internet to conduct “warfare,” or attacks, in cyberspace. Cyber-attacks use the global computer network to cross international boundaries with ease. Critical infrastructures such as gas, water and propane lines, power grids and chemical manufacturing systems can be easily accessed from a remote location via cyber space. An enemy could potentially infiltrate these systems and manipulate them without even getting caught. In some cases, they may even cause physical damage.

In the past few weeks, The White House, the Pentagon and State Department joined a roster of large corporations such as the New York Stock Exchange and Yahoo Finance that have been threatened with cyber-attacks since the 4th of July. The Department of Treasury and Federal Trade Commission websites were shut down because of these attacks. The Pentagon and the White House, however, faced little disruption.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and at the Pentagon do not know who is behind these attacks. Obviously, this is not the first time the government has encountered this type of threat. The United States has seen a growing number of successful cyber attacks over the past few years. Even the top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged this problem last week during a press conference at the Pentagon.

"I grow increasingly concerned about the cyber world and the attacks, whether they're from individual hackers or state entities, and that's something we all need to be concerned about," said Mullen last Wednesday.

Here’s a look at some of the major cyber attacks that have affected the United States since 1964:

1964: AT&T monitored millions of phone calls to catch "phone freaks". They used "blue boxes" to hack a telephone operator's dialing console and made free phone calls.

1971: The ‘Creeper’ virus was detected on a U.S. military computer network. Infected systems showed the message, 'I'M THE CREEPER : CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.'

• 1979: Xerox researchers developed the first computer worm to look for a network for idle processors. They wanted to improve system efficiency, but it led to several destructive viruses.

• 1983: The FBI caught the "414s," a group of young hackers who broke into several United States government networks using only an Apple II computer and a modem in certain cases. Also that same year, a University of Southern California engineering student invented the term "computer virus."

• 1986: Programmers in Pakistan released what is considered to be the world’s first MSDOS virus- "The Brain." BusinessWeek magazine at the time called the virus the Pakistani flu.

• 1998: Federal officials detected intrusions in computer systems at the Pentagon and NASA. Investigations held Soviet Union responsible for the intrusion. The Russian government denied all accusations.

• 1999: The "Melissa" virus infected thousands of computers, causing $80 million in damage. The virus was propagating in the form of an email message containing an infected Word document as an attachment.

• 2000: The "I Love You" virus infected millions of computers and stole passwords and usernames. Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Datek and other high-profile websites went offline for several hours because of so-called "distributed denial-of-service attacks."

• 2001: The Code Red Worm takes over more than 350,000 servers and uses them to attack against the White House's website. Federal officials teamed up with several tech companies to deceive the attack. It was the same year when the ‘Nimda’ worm attacked the U.S. financial sector, affecting millions of computers and slowing the entire Internet.

• 2003: The ‘Slammer’ worm affected thousands of computers in the United States delaying airline flights and disrupting financial networks.

• 2007: Pentagon officials reported as many as 1500 computers were taken off-line because of a cyber attack. However, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that it had no impact whatsoever on department operations.

• 2008: Republican congressmen, Reps. Frank Wolf and Christopher Smith revealed that their office computers were hacked in late 2006 and early 2007. A few Congressmen held Chinese hackers responsible for these attacks. However, security experts knocked down their claims saying they were not ‘well substantiated’.

• 2009: Computers at the White House, the Pentagon, State Department and financial institutions like Yahoo Finance and the New York Stock Exchange were attacked. Suspect is still unknown.

U.S. Military leaders consider this a matter of national security. This year, they have called for additional funding to improve the Pentagon’s cyber attack prevention program.

"It would be nice to spend that money protectively ... rather than fixing things after the fact," said John Davis, deputy head of the U.S. Strategic Command at a cyber-space conference in Omaha, Nebraska earlier this year.

On a May 29 press conference, President Obama announced the creation of a ‘cyber czar’ position to oversee "a new comprehensive approach to securing America's digital infrastructure." The president said he will personally select the person who takes on that post. So far, no one has been chosen.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Pentagon • President Barack Obama • Technology
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. DoktorThomas

    This story is just prepping the public so they will not resist the government building its own utlra-expensive matrix. Hook in the 126 spy satellites watching the USA, and then you will have Skynet and the Matrix. Big brother will really be ready for monitoring every move of everyone. Be wary.

    Surfing is just like driving; understand the vehicle, what makes go and the hazards. Then watch for the pot holes. AND, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Always proceed with caution; you are being watched.

    Finally, everything you post to your computer or the web is there for the whole world to see. Read that again I am sure you didn't get it. Once more. Did you get that? E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

    Happy surfing and whoever is doing the hacking, keep on keeping on.

    July 17, 2009 at 2:38 am |
  2. Sabrina In Las Vegas

    With the train derailments we have recently experienced, can these be attributed to cyber attacks?

    There seems to be no reason for the systems to fail yet they did...hackers seem to be most likely.

    July 16, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  3. Teresa, OH

    President Obama will "personally" select the cyber-czar. Now thats scary.

    to Suvro Banerji: goodness! quite an article with tons of info. I dont think you will be an intern for long. CNN should give you a raise.

    For most of us computer illiterate folks out here, we simply believe the ones that protect us FROM the viruses are actually the ones MAKING the viruses. We cant win.

    July 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm |
  4. Louis

    this is a subject that needs way more coverage Anderson and way more protection needs to be offered by our government then what is available without having to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for protecting what belongs to you while the ones stealing it (hackers) are making millions off of your work. We need tougher laws and laws brought to the internet of 2009. In addition, our local police need to be more involved in this type of activity with hackers instead of giving you the it is not in our description to handle hackers. Hackers are very intelligent, in a sense. They know how to get around every security measure even the normal public takes. Our country relies on computers and the internet way to much because the connections are not secure, not even in online banking, our government etc. Hackers are so good now that one does not even require a internet connection to their computer for them to get on.

    July 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  5. Jeanette

    They should spend whatever it takes to protect our national security. This is a major worry that needs to be corrected immediately.

    July 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  6. Stephen Penhall

    Or maybe the answer is not to develope a better program to keep the hackers out, but rather a tenacious viral hunter to locate and flush the hackers into the authorities hands by means of traceroutes and IP addresses. At this point we can negotiate with them and offer positions in anti-hacking and terrorism organizations to better equip the-good-guys with the knowledge neccessary to eliminate future threats or the threat entirely. The old saying "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" would be very beneficial against an army of extremely intelligent and greedy computer wizzes. There are always going to be more people to catch, and instead of becoming a reactive society, we should concentrate on being a very pro-active, open-minded society that will allow those parties in goverment and state that we elect, the ability and trust to watch over and protect our sensitive finacial data that we need to keep the economy going. It is beneficial for them as well as us to allow them access to our records when there is nothing illegal to hide. The laymen is illiterate when it comes to securing anything digital and must rely on those corporations that house our data to provide a secure package that is both accessable to the authorized user, and secure from the computer crooks. It is impossible to expect complete security in the digital world without compromising your privacy and anonimity.

    July 16, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  7. William Rivera

    I just passed my COMPTIA Security+ exam and am now certified as a computer network security professional and would like to help the gov with this problem.

    July 16, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  8. Fatima Prioleau

    It is important that the administration uses a core of smart, technology adept workers to monitor these attacks and have cyber sleuth's track these people trying to attack the US cyber system

    July 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    I worry about hackers getting into financial data and rerouting money to themselves. Doing things online is nice especially when it comes to bill paying. I keep a close watch on my bank records and credit cards and I keep my passwords secret and change them every 30 days but I know that given a determined hacker they will find some back door way in to the system if they are patient. I hope Obama appoints someone effective soon for this cyber czar position; we need someone who knows what is going on and is technologically astute enough to be able to judge different solutions for these attacks and choose the software that will be the most effective in keeping those who are not suppose to access these computers out.

    July 16, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  10. Bella


    July 16, 2009 at 8:03 pm |