Infected USB caused biggest US military breach ever


An infected USB drive was at the heart of the most serious breach of US military networks ever in 2008, a senior US Government figure has confirmed.

US Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn explained how the provenance of the infection stemmed back to a drive being inserted into a laptop at a US base in the Middle East.

"The flash drive's malicious computer code, placed there by a foreign intelligence agency, uploaded itself onto a network run by the US Central Command," Lynn noted in an article on the Foreign Affairs website.

"That code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control."

This incident led to the creation of Operation Buckshot Yankee, a Pentagon initiative designed to help counter the cyber threat facing the US.

Lynn admitted even since Operation Buckshot Yankee was set up, foreign enemies have managed to acquire thousands of files from US networks and from allies' systems, including weapons blueprints, operational plans and surveillance data.

"When an organisation, such as the US military holds sensitive information, it is important that they ensure the security of all devices entering the network," Ash Patel, country manager for UK and Ireland at Stonesoft, told IT PRO.

Patel stressed the importance, especially for bodies such as the US military, to completely lock down USB ports.

"Never leave a USB lying about unattended, this can lead to a quick win for a hacker but leave devastating consequences for an organisation. Never insert a USB stick into a company machine unless you know exactly what it contains and where it has come from," he added.

Earlier this year, McAfee reported spreading malware on USBs was a technique being used heavily by cyber criminals, even though many would have been forgiven for thinking it was a dying art.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.