Cyberattacks against the US government are on the rise and, according to one expert working with Washington, they amount to a “war”.A review of records by the AP news agency found that a $10bn-a-year effort to protect sensitive government data is struggling to keep pace with an increasing number of cyberattacks.
The review found that the number of reported cyber incidents on federal networks is up 70% from 2009, when it recorder 30,000 attacks compared to nearly 50,000 last year.
Officials say cyberattacks now trump terrorism as the number one threat to the US and are trying to enlist the help of Silicon Valley to help the government fight them.
“This is war. There’s no other way to describe it,” said Sam Glines, CEO of Norse, a cybersecurity firm working with the government.
The Pentagon last year said Chinese government hackers stole plans for more than two dozen US weapons systems, including an F-35 fighter.
And reports said last month that hackers suspected to be working for the Russian government had breached part of the White House computer network.
But more than half the cyber incidents are partly to blame on government employees themselves or contractors who inadvertently click on malicious links or leave their cell phones unattended.
They have clicked links in bogus phishing emails, opened malware-laden websites and been tricked by scammers into sharing information. One was redirected to a hostile site after connecting to a video of tennis star Serena Williams.
“We are all very, very vulnerable,” said Phyllis Schneck, deputy under secretary for cybersecurity.
“It’s a much bigger challenge than anyone could have imagined 20 years ago.”
Ms Schneck has been running the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Fighting Center for just over a year.
One of the biggest hurdles in countering the growing pool of attackers is convincing more young programmers to pursue careers in cybersecurity.
Marc Maiffret knows the government’s vulnerabilities better than most. As a teen hacker, he broke into federal computer systems to post anti-government slogans before being caught by the FBI.
Now his company helps agencies protect themselves against cyberattacks.
“The government, like most other things, is very, very slow moving to adopt new technologies and new security standards,” he said.