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Covid-19: Pentagon networks under increased attack during mandatory telework

The Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) classified and unclassified networks are facing an increase in attempted breaches and cyber attacks, as the majority of Pentagon and service-centric operations shift online due to the department’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Joint Force Headquarters for the Department of Defense’s Information Network (JFHQ-DODIN) has been monitoring cyber threats to the Pentagon’s digital communication networks in the weeks after department employees were ordered to telework, US Air Force Lieutenant General Bradford Shwedo, chief information officer for the Joint Staff, said.

“There has been a surge in spear-phishing [attacks] related to Covid-19,” Lt Gen Shwedo told reporters during a 13 April briefing at the Pentagon, noting that cyber-security officials had anticipated the surge in such attacks, and that many spear-phishing campaigns look to “exploit current events to produce convincing products ... and right now, Covid-19 is an emphasis item”.

Targets of the spear-phishing attacks cut across all levels and directorates within the Pentagon, with hackers using a shotgun blast approach in distributing spear-phishing malware across department networks, Lt Gen Shwedo said. He declined to identify specific, senior-level targets of the spear-phishing campaigns but did note that cyber-security officials were gaining more insight into the origins of the attempted breaches and means through which they are being launched.

Cyber-security initiatives by the Joint Staff, focused on addressing threats tied to accelerated telework, are aligned with ongoing cyber-security measures by US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency to mitigate future attacks while gathering intelligence on the adversaries carrying them out.

Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy and US Air Force Lieutenant General B J Shwedo, Joint Staff chief information officer, hold a 13 April briefing at the Pentagon on cyber-security efforts during coronavirus disease mitigation operations. (Department of Defense )

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