In 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense suffered a significant compromise of its classified military computer networks. It began when an infected flash drive was inserted into a U.S. military laptop at a base in the Middle East. The flash drive's malicious computer code, placed there by a foreign intelligence agency, uploaded itself onto a network run by the U.S. Central Command. That code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control. It was a network administrator's worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary.
This previously classified incident was the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever, and it served as an important wake-up call. The Pentagon's operation to counter the attack, known as Operation Buckshot Yankee, marked a turning point in U.S. cyberdefense strategy.
Over the past ten years, the frequency and sophistication of intrusions into U.S. military networks have increased exponentially. Every day, U.S. military and civilian networks are probed thousands of times and scanned millions of times. And the 2008 intrusion that led to Operation Buckshot Yankee was not the only successful penetration. Adversaries have acquired thousands of files from U.S. networks and from the networks of U.S. allies and industry partners, including weapons blueprints, operational plans, and surveillance data.
As the scale of cyberwarfare's threat to U.S. national security and the U.S. economy has come into view, the Pentagon has built layered and robust defenses around military networks and inaugurated the new U.S. Cyber Command to integrate cyberdefense operations across the military. The Pentagon is now working with the Department of Homeland Security to protect government networks and critical infrastructure and with the United States' closest allies to expand these defenses internationally. An enormous amount of foundational work remains, but the U.S. government has begun putting in place various initiatives to defend the United States in the digital age.
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