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Hackers infiltrate US government nuclear network

01 Oct 2012
Garden view of the front of the White House

Some of the US government's most sensitive networks were reportedly infiltrated by hackers, in a worrying development in the escalating ‘cyber war' taking place between nations.

According to US website FreeBeacon, the attack was instigated by Chinese attackers and infiltrated several aspects of its network, including the system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands.

A subsequent statement given to appeared to tacitly confirm the attack, although did not make any direct reference to China and played down the extent of the threat to the nation.

"This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network," a White House official was reported to have said.

"These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have mitigation measures in place."

The use of a spear phishing attack would have meant a member of the White House staff was tricked into opening an email with a malicious attachment or link.

This would have given the sender of the email access to their machine and the network on which it is hosted.

Director of security research at Trend Micro, Rik Ferguson, told V3 the use of a spear phishing attacked underlined that an organisation's security was only as strong as the people using its systems.

"People continue to represent the weakest link in the security chain and a patient attacker can almost always find enough background information online to make an attack both credible and ultimately, successful," he said.

"As long as the mail can be made credible enough to appeal to its intended target, perhaps referencing colleagues, real events and including a (malicious) attachment that really does contain data of interest to the target then the attack is likely to succeed."

Ferguson also noted that a similar attack on the Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory led to a similar breach in 2011.

Cyber warfare and government espionage are increasing all the time as nations look for new ways to gather information on their economic and political rivals.

The US and Israel have been accused of developing the Stuxnet and Flame malware programmes used to impede Iran's nuclear development programme

Furthermore, tensions between the US and China in the realm of cyber spying are already high as the US government has also put a ban on Chinese vendor Huawei from selling in the nation.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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