The Pentagon is pushing U.S. defense companies including Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. (BA:US) to boost the security of their computer systems because a weakness might allow enemies and hackers to steal sensitive military information.
The Department of Defense is advising its contractors about emerging threats and suggesting ways to tighten the security of their computer networks, said Robert Lentz, the Pentagon’s chief information assurance officer. The effort is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Industrial Base Cyber Security Initiative.
“What we are saying is that our defense industrial base should be able to talk to us securely, we are asking them to upgrade their security systems,” Lentz said today in an e-mail. “Industry is getting a better understanding of the requirements and getting a better handle of the skills required. But they still have a long way to go, as even the United States government does.”
Defense officials are concerned that engineering drawings, intellectual property information and financial data stored on unclassified computers operated by contractors involved in U.S. weapons programs may be vulnerable to attacks and theft. Security breaches on U.S. and private-computer networks reported to the Department of Homeland Security almost doubled to 72,000 for the year ending October from 37,000 the previous year.
“It’s incumbent upon the industry to protect the information,” John Grimes, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, said at a Dec. 10 conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics in Washington.
The Pentagon program is a “cooperative thing,” with all the defense contractors involved, said Steve Hawkins, vice president for information security solutions at Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon. (RTN:US)
If an attack or weakness is detected “you post to a forum so others can quickly see what’s going on and defend against it quickly,” Hawkins said in an interview last month. Larger contractors sometimes help smaller firms with their computer security, he said. When the Pentagon finds smaller contractors requiring help in protecting their networks “they send them to us.”
Boeing is studying ways of “protecting our own networks and looking at finding out who’s attacking us,” Barbara Fast, vice president of the Chicago-based company’s Cyber Solutions unit, said in an interview. The division was created in August.
The Pentagon spends most of its computer-security budget in ensuring that data traveling through its networks is safe from attacks. Annually the expenditure is about $500 per desktop on the 3.5 million computers in the Defense Department, Lentz said.
If all U.S. agencies and companies in the financial, energy and transportation industries join together to develop security systems “you can drive down the cost,” Lentz said in a Dec. 11 interview.
Even if the U.S. defense budget faces pressure because of the economic recession, spending on computer security is likely to get the “same emphasis if not more,” Lentz said. President-elect Barack Obama “uses a Blackberry, so it’s only natural his administration would want to understand and protect information.”
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