US Cyber Defense is a Mess: British and French Fleets Infected by Computer Virus

Last week, the Telegraph reported that French fighter planes were grounded because they were unable to download mission data from ships infected with the Conficker virus. The same article notes that most of the British fleet was also infected.

Microsoft has offered a bounty of $250,000 for the arrest of what appears to be an organized enterprise that is adding alarming new features to variants of the virus.

Cyber spying and warfare will be an important element to future wars, particularly those in which small forces hope to do big damage to highly automated military systems.  If an errant virus can infect most of the Royal Air Force, just think what an effort run by a military opponent could do.

This is of particular concern in the US, as the Pentagon suspended work on a cyber warfare command until the new President can sort out the organization issues needed to move forward. The Black Hat Security conference last week in Virginia discussed the need for a national leader to marshal the US response to a “cyber-Katrina” or perhaps, to draw a better metaphor, a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”

President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars for the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division, programs that have faced significant criticism over the past year.

Earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the National Security Agency should have more oversight of cybersecurity (PDF).

“The National Security Agency has the greatest repository of cybertalent,” he said. “I think that capability should be harnessed and built on as we’re trying to protect more than just our intelligence networks or our military networks (and) as we expand to our federal networks and to our critical infrastructure networks.”

Later in the week, the idea that NSA should run cyber-security lead to the protest resignation of Rod Beckstrom, the US Government’s head of cyber. Beckstrom had headed the new National Cybersecurity Center, which was created just a year ago. Reuters quotes him has saying NSA leadership of domestic cybersecurity is “bad strategy”.  Mr. Fox, meet the hen house.

As Walter Mondale once observed, “everything will be just fine unless something foreseen happens.” The US Government has seen this threat approaching. It has made several abortive attempts to respond. As Mondale suggests it not the surprise new issues that are decimating, its the immense ones, which can be seen clearly approaching, that become a big deal, as once they arrive any response it just too late.

Since preparation requires vision and and effort which preceeds any popular call, it is easy to defer, until there’s an “event”. Isn’t that what Pearl Harbors are for?

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