Cyberattacks spur new DOD warning system

The Defense Department has created a new alert system to rate the level of threats to its information systems that mirrors the well-known Defense Conditions (DEFCONs) ratings that mark the overall military status in response to traditional foreign threats.

The new Information Conditions, or INFOCONs, are raised and lowered based upon cyberthreats to DOD or to the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Stratcom is responsible for deterring any military attack on the United States and for deploying troops or launching nuclear weapons should deterrence fail, a Stratcom spokesman said. As INFOCONs are raised, officials take additional measures to protect information systems.

While DEFCONs have been popularized in movies such as "WarGames" and "The Hunt for Red October," this is the first time electronic threats have been included in the assessment of the nation's overall safety from enemy attacks. The INFOCONs are a response to a recent Defense Science Board report that concluded that reliance on computer systems to operate key infrastructures has "created a tunnel of vulnerability previously unrealized in the history of conflict" and could have a "catastrophic effect on the ability of [DOD] to fulfill its mission."

Stratcom uses five levels to indicate the threat to information technology systems: Normal indicates the lowest IT Defense posture; then the INFOCONs rise to levels labeled Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, the highest posture. As the threat to systems increases, officials employ more stringent policies and procedures, including, for example, disconnecting from the Internet and monitoring all systems in real time. Structured, systematic attacks to penetrate systems will result in a higher INFOCON level than when individual, isolated attempts are made, according to Stratcom.

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