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Media Encounter with Deputy Secretary Hamre

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre
February 25, 1998

Q: Let's talk about the computers. Yes. Cyber attacks. When did the Pentagon first realize that their attacks have been happening?

A: Several weeks ago, we noticed there was unusual activity. People trying to get access to our computer systems. We went on an alert status to watch that more carefully and saw it was kind of a concentrated effort. So, it's been over the last couple weeks... several weeks ago.

Q: Have any computers actually been penetrated? I know that, you know, a kid, a fourteen year old, can sit there and try to ping a military computer and the Pentagon often says that that's an attack. And they're just trying to... Unless a password... Have any actually been penetrated?

A: None of our classified systems have been penetrated. Yes, some of our unclassified systems have been penetrated. None of our [classified] systems have been penetrated. Functioning for the systems continues. And we do not see anomalous activity in those computers. But we do know there have been...

Q: When you say it's a concern, when you described this as a concentrated effort or what appears to be a concentrated effort, how would you describe this?

A: I would characterize it as being systematic and moderately sophisticated.

Q: Do you believe that there is a single person or group behind this?

A: I'm not going to be able to talk about a lot of that because it's still under active investigation by the FBI.

Q: A lot of activity in trying, trying to get into classified systems? Although, I believe you said that they did not...

A: We did not have penetration of our classified systems.

Q: Was there an effort to get in on the classified systems?

A: All of our classified systems are protected by firewalls. There are people that, you know, try, as you said, individuals that try on a daily basis or are just fooling around. But, nobody has gotten past the classified firewalls.

Q: ...time when sophisticated, modern and (inaudible) moderately sophisticated and systematic. What does this tell you about the kind of people who are trying to get in there?

A: Well, there are very sophisticated, computer-literate people in the United States. Some of them have absolutely nothing but... no evil intentions. It's, sometimes it's kind of hackers playing, and in some cases could be much more serious.

Q: Do you think this is hackers playing...?

A: It's really...it's too early really to tell. We are hopeful that as the investigation proceeds, that we'll be able to better characterize it, while we're doing an investigation to understand ourselves, what's happened.

Q: Do you believe there's a tie to Iraq here?

A: We do not see any evidence that there is a tie to Iraq.

Q: This morning you characterized it as a, maybe there was some kind of a game or a contest going on. What led you to believe that?

A: I was told that there is... routinely hackers have games that they play, and that this could indeed be a hacker's game. But I don't personally have knowledge of that. This is what I was informed of.

Q: The classified systems have firewalls, and protected, they're off-line and so forth. Any steps now on the same type of things on the unclassified computers? Are they ramping up steps to build up, beef up the security on those?

A: Yes. We have purchased the software appropriate to start putting firewalls around our unclassified systems, to buy the monitoring systems that we need so we know someone is trying to break in. We have... we are forming a computer forensics capability in the Department so that we can follow up on these matters. We've worked, forged very close working ties, with the FBI and the Justice Department. So, were taking all the steps I think we need to take.

Q: Have they succeeded in knocking down any systems like air traffic control?

A: No. No. Nothing like that.

Q: Any permanent damage to any systems?

A: Not that we know of. No.

Q: And your final characterization of the seriousness of this effort?

A: I think this was, more than anything, a serious wake-up call. That we are a society and an economy that's increasingly dependent on computers -- distributed systems. It's part of the power and the innovation in our economy, are these computers. But it also opens a vulnerability. And so you have to take this as being serious for the implication that it holds for the future. I think so, in that sense we're taking it very seriously.

Q: Thank you.