WASHINGTON– Defense Department officials are working to reduce vulnerability to cyber-attack attempts that occur regularly and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

“We are under attack virtually all the time, every day here,” Gates told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric yesterday during an interview broadcast on the show.

Attempts to attack DoD computer networks have more than doubled recently, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters yesterday. He declined to cite details, saying that to do so would only “make it easier for people trying to do us harm.”

The perpetrators run the gamut, Whitman explained. The threats range from “that recreational hacker all the way up to self-styled vigilantes to nationalistic or ideological kinds of groups with various agendas,” as well as nation states and transnational actors.

The Pentagon monitors its networks aggressively and investigates all incidences of intrusions or intrusion attempts, Whitman said. In addition, the department works closely with its industry partners to ensure they enforce the same stringent standards when working on defense programs, he said.

“We think we have pretty good control of our sensitive information, both with respect to intelligence and the equipment systems,” Gates said on CBS Evening News. “But we, like everybody else, [are] under attack. Banks are under attack. Every country is under attack.”

Gates declined to go into detail about news reports of a recent cyber-attack on a military weapons system program. He did offer, however, that he has no reason to believe the program’s sensitive systems were compromised. “I believe we still have security of the sensitive systems,” he said.

Tracking down cyber-thieves is a big challenge, Gates said, so he’s proposed more resources in the fiscal 2010 budget to increase cyber-security capabilities.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to figure out a home address on these attacks,” he said. “So one of the things that I’m doing in this budget is significantly increasing the resources for cyber experts.” That, he said, includes more than quadrupling the cyber-security force and exploring possible structural changes at the Pentagon.

The Defense Department currently trains about 80 cyberexperts each year, but Gates wants to increase that number to 250, Whitman told reporters.

“This is going to be an enduring problem, and it is going to be a challenge, not just for the Department of Defense, but for the entirety of the United States,” Gates said.

Security in the cyber domain is critical to national security, Whitman said. “We view cyberspace as a warfighting domain,” he said. “It is critical to our military operations, and we are going to defend it and protect it.”

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