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Sunday, September 25, 2016

How secure are our government computer systems, and does Congress really give a damn?


With all the hyper-partisan noise about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s admittedly unwise use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, an important issue has not been raised in the media among the flurry of coverage of this issue: just how secure are all those government servers that she—and several of her predecessors, for that matter—declined to use?
The furor over Clinton’s use of a private server is a lot of smoke without a flicker of flame. There’s not a scintilla of evidence indicating that the server she used was ever compromised. There is, however, a lot of evidence that U.S. Government computer systems, including those of the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of State (DOD), and other government agencies, have been repeatedly penetrated by hostile hackers, believed to have originated from Russia and China.
In the mid-1990s, for example, it was estimated that on any given day, 5 to 6 DOD computer systems were controlled by hackers. In 1996, DOD’s Milnet computer system (including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Logistics Agency) were compromised. In 2006, the DOD’s unclassified email was hacked, shutting the system down for several days; the intrusion was believed to have originated abroad. In response to the early intrusions, plans were laid in 1996 to create a Defense Cyber Command to deal with them, and in 2006, the US Air Force Command was created.
These problems were known to the public, but you can search all you want and you’re unlikely to find much media coverage of the issue; certainly not to the degree that HRC’s email server is covered. For instance, in 1998, a group of hackers testified before congress on just how easy it would be to bring down the Internet. That should have provoked a flurry of frantic media coverage—but, it didn’t.
For that matter, nor did the 2008 compromise of DOD’s classified computer system, or again in 2015 when DOD’s unclassified email system was again hacked.
As for the Department of State, in 2014, the DOS email system was hacked and had to be shut down. At the same time, the White House email system was targeted, but as far as we know that attempt was a failure. As far as we know.
There was a momentary upswing of media coverage when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) system was hacked twice in 2015 (supposedly by hackers in China), compromising over 25 million social security numbers, and exposing current and former government employees to hostile action and exposure of their personal data.
If congress was really interested in the security of government computer systems, one would assume that these incidents would be the subject of dozens of hearings and inquiries. Maybe someone up on the Hill is interested, but search as hard as you wish, you won’t find any evidence of that interest.
Maybe, after the November elections, when the dust is settled, some member of congress who is serious about doing his or her job will take on this issue. I, for one though, will not be holding my breath waiting for that to happen, because it offers no political advantage. Taking the necessary actions to really secure our government computer networks will require a lot of hard work and serious thought. The poor schmucks who have to work with those systems are working hard to get the job done. But, the politicians who should be providing them with the legislation and resources to get the job done have their ey