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Russia gets the blame for Pentagon hack attack

Russia is being accused of launching a “sophisticated” attack against the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff email system, according to a report published overnight be NBC News.

The attack is said to have taken place around 25 July, and according to a CBS News report – the Joint Staff’s unclassified email system remains offline over a week later as severe restrictions have been put in place, disrupting the work of some 4000 personnel.

The classified network used by the Joint Chiefs is said to not be affected.

If CBS News’s report is accurate, sources are claiming that the attack was a “new sophisticated intrusion” that could “only be mounted by a state actor”.

A typical attack would have seen workers targeted via an email campaign that either tricked them into launching a malicious attachment, or visiting a website, that installed further malware onto victim computers.

Running up-to-date anti-virus software and keeping patches for software such as Adobe Flash, Adobe PDF Reader, Java and Silverlight up-to-date can reduce the chances of such an attack succeeding – but there is always the possibility that the attackers might have used a zero-day vulnerability for which there is no patch yet available.

Haiyan Song, senior vice president of security markets at Splunk commented: "These attackers took enough data in a few minutes to shut down a vast email system for two weeks - the ramifications of which may not be fully known. While shutting down the system was a good isolation measure, you can be assured security teams are investigating further to understand the scope of this attack. When credentials get stolen, additional and more damaging attacks are inevitable. This is why being ready is so critical. Speed of detection and response is the only true defence.

"We cannot keep having the same weekly conversation about cybersecurity. It is well known that cyber space is the new front line. If we are not better prepared, we will continue to see stories like this play out, and there will be ongoing threats to national security. It is the responsibility of government and industry to work together and find comprehensive policy and technology solutions that better equip agencies’ security teams."

Andy Heather, VP EMEA at HP Security Voltage, also offered the following analysis: "Cyber attacks are a real and present danger, whatever the source. The sophistication in advanced malware renders traditional security virtually impotent.

"Current, traditional security technologies are ineffective, and both businesses and government agencies have to do more to protect sensitive information.These traditional technologies, including access and authorisation, AV and endpoint protection technologies, are not enough to protect information across its entire life-cycle, from the moment it’s created to the moment is consumed and deleted. These current technologies are not providing the necessary means to actually protect data as the data moves throughout and across an organisation.

"The only way that companies and government agencies can ensure that any sensitive data is comprehensively protected, is through a data-centric security program. This protects the actual data levels, rather than these traditional security technologies which focus on protecting the perimeter, which has long since failed to exist.

"Organisations should be using data encryption as a means to protect their information. Encryption should be used as a key mechanism within a data-centric approach, but encryption needs to be applied at the data level itself - not only on the database, or disk level, which are again simply point solutions.

"Public and private sector organisations are leveraging cloud-based services, mobility and big data initiatives to manage, move and analyse sensitive data like never before. Protecting the data itself through a data-centric strategy is the only way that these organisations can leverage these initiatives in a secure and protected way.

"The ongoing use of only traditional security technologies will simply lead to more data breaches, especially as cyber attacks increase in volume and malware sophistication A data-centric approach including encryption and, tokenization, is the only way for any organisation to secure the data from these continued attacks."

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