02 October 2012 | 3,682 views

Hackers Break Into White House Military Network

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It’s been a while, but hey I’m back! So here’s a news story that caught my eye today – it’s been a while since we’ve reported on a Spear Phishing attack, and guess what? Yes, last time it was also perpetrated by Chinese, but it was targeting Google’s Gmail.

Targeted Phishing Attacks Carried Out On Gmail – Likely From China

This time however the target was a little more serious, the US White House military network (WHMO). It’s pretty scary stuff, if a foreign power was able to take over control of the network used to co-ordinate nuclear attacks..

Hackers reportedly attempted a brazen attack on a White House military network in charge of the president’s nuclear football.

US officials familiar with the incident said unidentified hackers launched an attack early last month on the network used by the White House Military Office (WHMO), an military office in charge of sensitive communications, including systems to send and authenticate nuclear strike commands. The office is also responsible for arranging presidential communications and travel. However it seems only less significant systems were targeted by an assault that was, in any case, ultimately unsuccessful.

An unnamed Obama national security official said: “This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network.”

“In this instance the attack was identified, the system was isolated, and there is no indication whatsoever that any exfiltration of data took place,” the official said, the Washington Free Beacon (a Conservative blog that broke the story) reports.

It seems like some people in the White House need some education though if these kind of attacks are getting through, even if no data was actually lost – it’s not a good sign. And why are such critical systems even accessible from the Internet?

Even if the attack failed, it shows that something is very wrong with the architecture and network segregation.

Follow-up reports suggest that a dodgy email with a malicious attachment made it past perimeter defences and onto someone’s desktop, where it might have been opened, and a machine infected. But this machine was quickly identified and isolated before any damage was done.

Rob Rachwald, director of security strategy at Imperva, said the attempted attack should nonetheless act as a wake up call.

“Yet again traditional security software has failed to keep the bad guys out. Enterprise needed to assume that they have been compromised which means we need to detect abnormal access to data and Intellectual Property. This is yet another example of why we need to rethink the current security model and implement a new one that puts cameras on sensitive information.”

The attack was launched from Chinese networks, which by itself doesn’t mean much. However some officials seem to reckon the Chinese military cyber warfare specialists, working as part of a unit called the 4th Department of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, or 4PLA, are the most likely suspects behind the attack.

Obviously the Cyber Security Czar that was talked about at the start of the Obama administration isn’t doing a very good job.

It just goes to show how hard it is to secure critical data, and still give people reasonable access rights to it. It’s a constant struggle between security and usability, as security levels increase – usability decreases and everything tends to become a pain in the arse.

Either way it gives some good insights into the fact that the White House needs to get their act together.

Source: The Register



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5 Responses to “Hackers Break Into White House Military Network”

  1. cia broomcloset attendant 3 October 2012 at 9:51 pm Permalink

    This is what I have been saying for awhile. Get this 1.4 billion on DHS snooping into personal e-mails, looking at porno collections and listening to off the cuff coversations…
    Meanwhile the the PLA Hackers in timed brigades attack and also cruise the networks of the corporate chiefs to see how much oil they really have, attack and also lurk on the Wall Street exchanges to see if the liquidity flows are real or Disney Bernanke PPT stuff.

  2. [CHN]DuckSoft 5 October 2012 at 9:07 am Permalink

    A man did it? A team did it?
    Nice hacker(s)!

  3. Bogwitch 8 October 2012 at 2:58 pm Permalink

    I call bogus reporting.

    There seems to be a massive disparity here. Either the network was unclassified or it was controlling nukes. There is now way I can possible imaging that both statements can be true. Just because that particular department handles these communications does not mean the affected host/network does.
    I’m sure that such sensitive communications are handled by an air-gapped network.
    Sure, this is a wakeup call, don’t click shit etc. but it’s going to be more of a wake up call to the systems administrators who would dearly love to link the systems and to the officials that are constantly moaning “Why can’t I haz interwebs on my Top Secret macheen?”

    • Darknet 15 October 2012 at 10:16 am Permalink

      Yah I agree, it seems like slight misinformation and even the details in the story don’t particularly gel. Either way there’s a problem there.

  4. Micaela Villalvazo 31 October 2012 at 12:49 pm Permalink

    I really want to thank you for the free bot