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NATO networks vulnerable to cyber threat: US

US struggles to link Assange to soldier: report
Washington (AFP) Jan 25, 2011 - Military authorities are struggling to prove a link between a US Army private suspected of passing on secret government files and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, NBC reported Tuesday. Investigators have concluded that Private Bradley Manning illegally leaked tens of thousands of secret documents but have yet to come up with solid evidence that he gave the files to Assange or had direct contact with the WikiLeaks chief, NBC News reported, citing unnamed military officials. The Pentagon could not confirm the report and spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said officials could not publicly discuss an "ongoing investigation."

Assange, who is free on bail in Britain while fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sex case, has said he never heard of Manning before his name appeared in the press and did not encourage him to leak the documents. His WikiLeaks website has published a massive trove of secret US government documents in recent months that have infuriated and embarrassed the United States and its allies, with American officials exploring a possible legal case against Assange. But if authorities fail to establish a connection between Manning and the controversial WikiLeaks chief, it would represent a major legal victory for Assange. Such a result likely would leave him free from the threat of possible criminal prosecution in US courts, dealing him a propaganda coup in his war of words with a US administration that has labeled him a "high-tech terrorist."

WikiLeaks has yet to reveal the source of the document dump, but speculation has remained focused on Manning, who worked as a low-ranking army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning was arrested in May and US authorities have yet to say when he will be put on trial on charges of violating federal and military law. The army soldier has been held in solitary confinement at a military brig at the Quantico Marine base since July, prompting accusations from his lawyer and supporters that he is suffering from "inhumane treatment." A military spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Manning had been placed on suicide watch for two days last week at the prison, allowing authorities to impose even stricter conditions. First Lieutenant Brian Villiard told AFP he could not discuss why the brig commander had decided to put Manning on suicide watch and why it had been lifted two days later.

"This is something that's under constant review," he said. NBC, citing military officials, reported that Manning was placed on suicide watch after he allegedly failed to follow orders from Marine guards and that the brig commander had overstepped his authority as the decision was up to medical professionals. But Villiard said the brig commander had ultimate authority over detention conditions and that he was not bound to follow the advice of mental health advisers or other medical personnel. "He is the one that is tasked with the welfare of the detainees in the brig," the spokesman said. Despite demands from rights groups to lift Manning's solitary confinement, Villiard said the accused is being treated in the same way as other inmates under a "maximum custody" regime. Under the strict rules, Manning is allowed out of his cell for only one hour a day, for exercise outside or at an indoor gym.
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Jan 25, 2011
NATO's military networks are not fully protected against cyber threats and the alliance must make good on a pledge to erect a virtual wall by 2012, a top US defence official said Tuesday.

US Deputy Defence Secretary William Lynn warned at the end of a two-day visit to Brussels that the cyber threat was "maturing" from an espionage and disruption tool to a destructive force against vital infrastructure.

"I think the discussion for NATO at this point, the threshold step is we need to be able to protect our own military networks, and frankly we're not there yet," Lynn told journalists after meetings with European Union and NATO officials as well as the private sector.

The Pentagon's number two recalled that NATO had made the battle against cyber threats a priority at a summit in November, when leaders agreed to bring the NATO Cyber Incident Response Center to full operational capability in 2012, three years earlier than previously planned.

"The first step for NATO is to protect its own networks. We need concrete steps, we need to move to the full operational capability for the NATO Cyber Incident Response Center, which is basically making good on the promise from Lisbon to pull that forward from 2015 to 2012," he said.

Lynn said he was "optimistic that we will make good on the high-level commitments," but called for a private-public partnership to face up to the threat, which could spawn viruses that would destroy transport and financial systems.

"The cyber threat is still maturing, I don't think we're at the final stage of what that threat might look like," Lynn said.

"History would tell you that somebody will take it to the extreme.

"I think that's a significant reason to act now to get ahead of that kind of threat, so you've started to put appropriate protections in for your critical networks before the threat matures," he added.

earlier related report
Headless Conficker worm lives in computers
San Francisco (AFP) Jan 26, 2011 - A unified effort has lopped the head off a treacherous Conficker computer worm but the malicious computer code lives on in infected machines.

A Conficker Working Group report available online on Tuesday said the alliance has prevented the people who released the worm from using it to command computers as an army of machines referred to as a "botnet."

"Nearly every person interviewed for this report said this aspect of the effort has been successful," the group said in a summary of its findings.

The group considered is biggest failure as "the inability to remediate infected computers and eliminate the threat of the botnet."

Despite efforts to eradicate Conficker, variations of the worm remain on more than five million computers, according to the report.

Conficker was first noticed "in the wild" in November of 2008 and spread quickly to computers around the world.

The worm, a self-replicating program, took advantage of networks or computers that weren't up to date with security patches for Windows operating software.

It was able to infect machines from the Internet or by hiding on USB memory sticks carrying data from one computer to another.

"Conficker is among the largest botnets in the past five years," the report said. "It combined a number of the best tricks and traps within malware."

Conficker was designed to let cybercriminals take control of computers, perhaps to steal valuable data or use machines to fire off spam or launch attacks on websites or other online targets.

A task force assembled by Microsoft has been working to stamp out Conficker, also referred to as DownAdUp, and the software colossus placed a bounty of 250,000 dollars on the heads of those responsible for the threat.

The author of Conficker has not been caught, but hints in the code have led some researchers to suspect the culprit lived in Eastern Europe.

The Conficker Working Group has been touted as a powerful example of the importance of having traditionally rival computer security and software firms unite to battle hackers.

The group said it thwarted the hackers behind Conficker by working with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to cut the worm off from "command and control" online domains where it could download orders.

"Some suggested that the author may never have intended to utilize Conficker and the entire botnet was a feint or a 'head-fake,' " the report said.

"It is likely that the Conficker Working Group effort to counter the spread did make it more difficult for the author to act with impunity, but the author did not seem to have tried his or her hardest."

The attention focused on Conficker might have spooked the cyber criminals, or they may have been waiting for someone to pay to use the botnet in a nefarious take on offering services in the Internet "cloud," the report said.

"In many ways, Conficker did serve as a test run for the cybersecurity community to learn where their strengths and weaknesses were," the report concluded.

The Working Group was hailed as "evidence that differences can be overcome to cooperate against a threat."

The list of group members included Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, Cisco, IBM, VeriSign, ICANN, and a host of computer security firms.

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CSC helps Air Force with cybersecurity
Falls Church, Va. (UPI) Jan 18, 2011
The U.S. Air Force has given Virginia company CSC a $30 million contract to provide cybersecurity services for its 33rd Network Warfare Squadron. The award features a one-year base performance period and two option years. Under the contract, CSC will isolate, contain and prevent intrusive activities on the Air Force automated information systems and networks. In addition, CSC wil ... read more

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