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UK Cyber Attack Reported

by Ward Carroll on January 20, 2009

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The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD), the DoD equivalent in Britain, has begun to investigate what has been called the most significant cyber security breach after information and evidence surfaces that all emails sent from multiple Royal Air Force stations were sent to IP addresses traced back to Russia.

A hybrid computer virus/worm was able to penetrate MoD system security nearly two weeks ago. An MoD spokesman reportedly said that “action was immediately taken to isolate the infected systems and commence virus-cleansing procedures to protect from re-infection.”

This security event resulted in the need to bring down systems and halting email communication across most, if not all, of the military. These reports were just confirmed by British media. Reports that the Royal Air Force had some of their systems impacted as well remain unconfirmed at this point.

The allegations have been made that the MoD has failed to take the necessary steps to secure their systems and to respond to the growing threat of cyber attacks. Digital DNA analysis of the sophisticated virus suggest that it originated somewhere in the former eastern bloc. The impact of the computer virus attack was significant. The MoD stated that the performance of its IT systems had been affected by the computer attack but would not elaborate further.

Other reports suggest that over 24 RAF bases and 75% of Royal Navy ships — including the aircraft carrier Ark Royal — systems were infected/impacted. Unconfirmed reports implied that the stations attacked by the worm were ones that would be used to scramble aircraft for Russian bomber intercept. Sources inside the MoD have stated they are investigating the computer virus/worm. However, they firmly denied any knowledge of any e-mails being sent to a Russian.

This attack came on the heels of a similar attack on the Pentagon in the United States. Could this be the same bug? Cyber security experts say they appear to be similar but are not willing to say they were identical. The computer virus caused the Pentagon to ban the use of USB memory sticks or flash drives.

Although the US Department of Defense has not provided any official comment on the attack on their UK ally, one thing is clear, cyber attacks have accelerated and many believe we are on the verge of an all-out cyber war.

Kevin Coleman

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