DOD leaders mull Internet disconnect

Hammered by relentless hacker attacks against its unclassified network for years, the Defense Department may back away from using the Internet, which it invented, in favor of relying on intranet enclaves, according to a top Army official.

Lt. Gen. William Campbell, Army director of information systems for command, control and communications, who last year ordered all Army World Wide Web sites shut down pending a security review of their contents, said last week that all military networks connected to the Internet are "inherently vulnerable.... We don't have a prayer or a hope of defending ourselves unless we move large portions of the '.mil' [domain] onto a protected network" such as an intranet not connected to the Internet.

Campbell, speaking at a conference sponsored by the Association of the United States Army and the Association of Old Crows, suggested that DOD move its electronic commerce networks and publicly accessible Web sites to the ".com" domain, which is used by businesses.

The vulnerability of DOD networks has captured the attention of senior members of all four armed services as well as DOD, Campbell said. "We would be remiss if we left these network connections out there," he said. "We need sufficient protection so no one can get into our networks and damage the defense of the United States."

To handle its most sensitive traffic, DOD uses its Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, an intranet-like global network. Much of DOD's day-to-day business - including logistics, personnel and pay - is conducted on the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network, which is connected to the Internet and looms as a DOD electronic Achilles' heel, Campbell said.

"The openness of these networks makes us vulnerable to attacks by a hostile agent," Campbell said. "Vulnerabilities are of such a magnitude that to ignore them would be a dereliction of duty."

Detected hacker attacks against DOD worldwide unclassified networks occur at a rate of 250,000 a year - plus an untold number of undetected attacks, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. John "Soup" Campbell, director of the recently formed Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense. Speaking at the AUSA/Old Crows conference, the Air Force's Campbell said these attacks threaten DOD's "basic logistics systems which run on the Internet."

Philip Loranger, a civilian Army official who works for the Army's Campbell as chief of the service's Command and Control Protect Division, said the number of publicly accessible Web sites the Army operates poses a security risk. "We still have more public Web pages than necessary," he said.

Loranger said the Army continues to shut down Web sites for security reasons. He recently closed to the public the Army's information assurance Web site. "In our zealousness to share information [with the American public], we are disclosing targeting information" that a terrorist or enemy state could use, Loranger said.

John Hamre, deputy secretary of Defense, sounded a cautionary note about security vulnerabilities posed by the information posted on DOD Web sites and the ability of hackers to exploit the connections. But he warned that "we are far too connected to unplug ourselves [from the Web]."

Hamre added that the Pentagon made a mistake in turning control of its Web activities over to its public relations department without considering security risks. The Pentagon has made strides in the past two years in terms of securing its critical information infrastructure, Hamre said. "The foundation is in place, but it is a dramatically more complicated problem."

Hamre believes that vendors' e-commerce practices present a scenario ripe for exploitation.

"The best way to attack the U.S. is to become someone's customer," he said. "They'll give you the software" to enter sensitive systems, with few checks and balances imposed on the distribution or use of that software.

Tactical battlefield networks under development by the Army and Marines to support operations on future digitized battlefields have vulnerabilities, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Nabors, commander of the Army's Communications-Electronics Command. Army tactical battlefield networks, Nabors said, "do not have the bandwidth to handle commercial [information assurance] tools."

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