Pentagon’s Cyber Crime Center Says Data Probes Rose 37% in 2010

The U.S. Defense Department agency that conducts forensic analysis of computer-related crime, intrusions and data theft reported a 37 percent increase in the volume of material it studied last year.

“We processed 372 terabytes of data from customers,” Steven Shirley, executive director of the Cyber Crime Center said in an interview. “It was a 100 terabyte increase over” 2009, or a 37 percent gain. A terabyte is one trillion bytes of data.

The center was created in 1998. It has provided clues to U.S. federal investigative agencies by examining hardware and software in crimes involving military personnel as well as incidents of hacking, malware and data thefts from the Pentagon and its contractors.

About one-third of the center’s work in the last two years was related to “national security” matters, including referrals from Pentagon agencies and U.S. defense contractors, Shirley said. He declined to specify details, citing classified information.

Criminals and hackers probe U.S. government computers “millions of times every day, about 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year and cyber crime costs large American businesses $3.8 million a year,” a group of U.S. senators said in a Jan. 26 statement, after introducing legislation to tighten security.

Defense Contractors

The center also is the focal point for a group of the Pentagon’s top 40 defense contractors that voluntarily share with the Defense Department information on attacks on their networks, malware and suspected data thefts. The effort, called the Defense Industrial Base Information Sharing Environment, is “in our mutual interest” because it helps companies better protect their network data, Shirley said.

General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia, is the prime contractor working with the Cyber Crime Center to conduct forensic analysis of affected hardware and software.

Depending on the investigation, the company’s technicians may get “seized laptops and cell phones to packets of data from networks,” Michael Buratowski, senior program manager and computer forensic examiner at General Dynamics said in an interview.

General Dynamics and the Cyber Crime Center can “not only identify what happened but help set up security” for a defense agency or contractor to patch vulnerable gaps in their networks, Buratowski said. “Once a company is hit, they become more vulnerable” because hackers “like to brag” about their successes.

The company’s forensic services have also been sought by non-defense entities that have suffered attacks and data thefts.

Credit Card Information

In 2007, General Dynamics’ engineers were called by TJX Companies Inc., the operator of Marshalls and T.J. Maxx store chains, after hackers penetrated the stores’ computer networks and stole customers’ credit card information.

Defense contractors that are part of the Defense Industrial Base information sharing network report to the Cyber Crime Center attacks and other events at their discretion, Shirley said. “It’s not mandatory and each company considers them according to a number of factors based on internal deliberations.”

The Pentagon does not monitor the contractors’ networks and is not seeking legal authority to do so, Lieutenant Colonel April Cunningham, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

If in the future the Pentagon decides to “regulate network security standards through a defense federal acquisition rule, then appropriate mechanisms will be sought,” she said.

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