More China syndrome

The Chinese have penetrated the networks of defense contractors and the Defense Department. We reported the latter occurrence in August.

An executive of a major defense contractor said the company discovered a Chinese penetration earlier this year that had gone on for months. He added that the company was not the only one in the contractor community that needs to defend itself against sophisticated Chinese attacks. "These are not script kiddies," the executive said. "They have superb tradecraft."

Defense contractors are scrambling to improve network security, especially after a series of high-level, classified meetings that were called to deal with Chinese hackers, the executive said.

The Chinese are so good at penetrating sensitive U.S. networks partly because hackers are trained in the United States, the executive said. They attend U.S. universities and get jobs in Silicon Valley, making them excellent cyberagents when they return to China.

The Chinese attacks that we have learned about have been against unclassified networks, but some of those contain sensitive information.

How long will it be before someone breaks into a highly classified DOD network?

Post-Katrina radio blues

Last year, we reported extensively on how National Guard troops dropped by Radio Shack to buy two-way radios before heading to Iraq. Somehow the world's only superpower could not supply them with military standard radios, such as Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System.

To eliminate the shortage, lawmakers gave the Army $55 million to equip troops in Iraq with a whole bunch of those radios through a supplemental appropriation last year. But evidently, a shortfall persists.

The funding did not cover new systems for U.S.-based National Guard units, which deployed last month to the Gulf Coast to support Hurricane Katrina disaster relief operations with Vietnam-era radios. Army Lt. Gen. Steve Blum, the National Guard Bureau chief, told lawmakers that story last month at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

Sens. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairmen of the National Guard Caucus, have asked for $1.3 billion for the Guard in the next DOD supplemental bill. They wrote in a letter to President Bush that the Guard has a significant shortage of available stateside gear.

Or the Guard could take the extra money and go to Radio Shack.

Egad! Protests and patriotism

The Government Accountability Office will decide later this month whether the Army erred in awarding the multimillion-dollar Army Knowledge Online Enterprise Services contract in July to an industry team led by Lockheed Martin.

Some people have chided the protesting companies for filing the protest during a time of war, particularly because the system under contract could provide many benefits for soldiers.

We asked Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle for his thoughts on this brouhaha during a press conference last week at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual shindig in Washington, D.C. The Army's chief information officer wisely did not take the bait.

"The protests are an inconvenience," Boutelle said. "Industry has a right to protest. We just ask industry to consider the environment we're in."

Jabber and groove

The Defense Information Systems Agency released a request for information for collaboration tools last week. Although the agency preferred to remain mum, two potential vendors we talked to view it as a huge procurement that eventually could equip every DOD user with a wide variety of voice, video and data collaboration tools.

Bob Knuth, a senior manager of business development at General Dynamics, said the company intends to bid when DISA puts out a request for proposals by offering a full range of tools, including products made by Jabber and Groove Networks.

Bill Heil, president of WebEx, said the company "is very interested as this is our core business."

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