Cyberwarfare ::Vulnerabilities: FBI Pursues Foreign Hacking of PCs of Former CJCS ADM Mullen

OPSEC/INFOSEC Vulnerabilities: FBI Pursues Foreign Hacking of PCs of Former CJCS ADM Mullen at USNI 20121  2 (UNCLASSIFIED)
Wall Street Journal
December 6, 2012; Pg. 3

Hackers Hit Ex-Military Head

FBI Pursues Foreign Attack on Computers of Former Joint Chiefs Chairman  Mullen
By Devlin Barrett, Julian E. Barnes and Evan Perez

Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing foreign hackers who targeted the computers of retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff, in the latest example of what current and former officials call a pattern of attacks on computers of former high-ranking U.S. officials.
The hackers targeted Mr. Mullen’s personal computers, which he used while  working on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy since his retirement  in 2011, according to officials and others familiar with the probe. Those  people said FBI agents took away two computers in late October and returned  them in mid-November.

One official said that evidence gathered by the FBI points to China as the  origin of the hacking, and that it appeared the perpetrators were able to access a personal email account of Mr. Mullen. The official declined  to be more specific.

Geng Shuang, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he  wasn’t aware of the investigation into the hacking of Mr. Mullen’s  computers, and that his government prohibits cyberattacks. “China is a major  victim of hacker attacks,” he said. “The Chinese government would like to  work with other countries, including the U.S., to explore effective ways to  combat cyberattacks.”

In response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Mullen’s office  issued a statement saying: “Adm. Mullen, now a private citizen, has  responded to very specific requests and is cooperating with an ongoing cyber  investigation he has been informed is focused overseas.”

The case underscores one potential vulnerability as foreign-based hackers  search for weaknesses in U.S. intelligence and security systems.  Current and former U.S. cybersecurity officials said the Mullen case is the  most recent example of a series of undisclosed hacker attacks on the
computer files of former senior U.S. officials. Hackers view former officials’  computers as an easier way to get access to sensitive
information, said these people, who declined to name the targeted former  officials.

Last month, Mr. Mullen was one of five people named to a State Department  board to review the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Mr. Mullen also serves on advisory boards  at the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Mullen has had access to classified information while working on the  Benghazi investigation, but his own computers weren’t in such a heavily  protected network, officials said.

Aides to Mr. Mullen said he didn’t keep or view classified material on his  own personal computers.

Even if no classified information was at risk, such intrusions could gather  useful intelligence for adversaries seeking to learn whom Mr. Mullen > has been consulting with or advising, and what they are thinking, said Tom Kellermann, a cybersecurity expert at TrendMicro Inc.

He said targeting a retired official could let hackers use that person’s computer as a surveillance device to snoop on any current officials > who come into close proximity with the computer.

Hacking a former official is a great gateway to the current leadership,  because the current leadership will implicitly trust former  officials,” said Mr. Kellermann, who cited the danger of cybersnooping  programs that can be hidden in email attachments.

Targeting former officials is not the only way hackers have sought to glean  sensitive information without taking direct aim at guarded government  networks.

In the past, hackers in China have targeted the personal email accounts of  current U.S. government officials, in the hopes that the targeted individuals  would disclose valuable information in those less-secure messages, according  to U.S. officials.

The FBI investigation of Mr. Mullen’s computers isn’t related to the  continuing probe that embroiled another former high-level U.S. military  official, former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus,  according to multiple officials.

Mr. Mullen became the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2007 and retired from  the military four years later.

Since then, he has had an office at the Naval Institute, a private think tank  that has its headquarters on the grounds of the Naval Academy in  Annapolis, Md. The computers in question were his own, and did not belong to  either the institute or the academy, officials said.

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE