National Defense University takes systems off-line

For the second time in two months, a major Defense Department educational institution has shut down its computer and e-mail systems. The National Defense University, located in Washington, D.C., is currently without Internet or e-mail while undergoing unspecified maintenance activities.

NDU is no longer connected to DOD networks and staff and students will be without service for two to four weeks, according to Dave Thomas, NDU’s director of public affairs. Thomas declined to comment on the reasons for the maintenance and could not confirm or deny whether there had been a recent network intrusion at NDU.

“I won’t acknowledge one way or the other security issues with the system,” he said.

The maintenance was scheduled to coincide with the school’s semester break, Thomas said. This is the first time computer maintenance has required NDU systems to be offline for an extended period of time, he added.

The shutdown comes on the heels of a major network intrusion at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In November, all computer systems at NWC were taken offline after a hacker attack compromised the system’s security. According to reports, one NWC professor told his students that Chinese hackers had “taken down” the entire network. DOD never confirmed the origin of the attack at NWC.

On Dec. 15, all NDU employees received an e-mail alerting them that NDU e-mail accounts would be inactive for up to one month, according to an NDU employee who asked not to be identified. Meanwhile, staff members at the institution are working from home and using personal e-mail accounts, the employee said.

The previous NWC attack may have identified vulnerabilities in NDU’s system that are now being addressed, the employee said. After last month’s attack, DOD raised its Information Condition awareness level from Infocon5 to Infocon4, where it remains.

DOD’s Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations is helping NDU employees perform the system maintenance, said Tim Madden, spokesman for JTF-GNO. Madden said there was no direct connection between the incident at NWC and the computer shutdown at NDU.

“All computer systems and networks are probed and scanned countless times each day,” he said. “To characterize any particular malicious intrusion as ‘connected’ to any other is similar to saying a traffic accident on I-495 in the National Capital Region is connected to a traffic accident on I-405 in Southern California.”

NWC houses the Strategic Studies Center, which has been tasked with developing future strategies for fighting in cyberspace, as well as a new center to study Chinese military and security issues. NDU includes the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs as part of its Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Earlier this year, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security suffered a network attack that was confirmed to have originated from Chinese servers. After that intrusion, the bureau was forced to replace hundreds of computers. BIS determines technology export policies to countries including China.

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