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.
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