Cyber theft illustrates Pentagon security challenge

A foreign intelligence service stole 24,000 files from a U.S. defense contractor earlier this year, a dramatic illustration of the threat confronting the Pentagon as it works to bolster military computer security, a top defense official said on Thursday.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn revealed the theft as he unveiled a new Pentagon cybersecurity strategy that designates cyberspace as an “operational domain” like sea, air and land where U.S. forces will practice, train and prepare to defend against attacks.

Lynn said the theft occurred in March and was believed to have been carried out by a foreign intelligence service and targeted files at a defense contractor developing weapons systems and defense equipment. He declined to specify the country behind the attack, what company was hit or what the files contained.

“It was 24,000 files, which is a lot,” Lynn said. “But I don’t think it’s the largest we’ve seen.”

The theft was a dramatic illustration of the rising difficulties the Pentagon faces in protecting military and defense-related networks critical to U.S. security.

Defense Department employees operate more than 15,000 computer networks and 7 million computers at hundreds of installations around the world. The department’s networks are probed millions of times a day and penetrations have compromised huge amounts of data.

Lynn said a recent estimate pegged economic losses from theft of intellectual property and information from government and commercial computers at over $1 trillion.

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