Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Tom Clancy hasn’t published a new book in several years, but an actual cyberwar incident reported by a top Pentagon official reads as if it were ripped from a “Red Storm Rising” Clancy plot.

But the device that invaded Defense Department classified systems with a malicious code was a simple flash drive inserted into a laptop.

A foreign intelligence agency is responsible for the attack.

Where’s Jack Ryan when you need him?

“In 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense suffered a significant compromise of its classified military computer networks,” wrote William Lynn III, a deputy Secretary for Defense, in the of Foreign Affairs.

“It began when an infected flash drive was inserted into a U.S. military laptop at a base in the Middle East. The flash drive’s malicious computer code, placed there by a foreign intelligence agency, uploaded itself onto a network run by the U.S. Central Command. That code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control. It was a network administrator’s worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary.”

Network administrator’s worst nightmare? What about the nation’s worst fear?

Lynn describes the incident as the “most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever.”

The introductory summary headline for the article spells out the real cyberwar the U.S. fights daily:

“Right now, more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations are trying to hack into the digital networks that undergird U.S. military operations. The Pentagon recognizes the catastrophic threat posed by cyberwarfare, and is partnering with allied governments and private companies to prepare itself.”

Lynn’s article was released on the same day that IBM reported that Internet, web application and other enterprise security threats in the first half of this year.

Intrestingly, Lynn is disclosing what he described as a “previously classified incident.” He says the attack was an “important wake-up call.”

Is that an understatement or what?

Lynn says the U.S. countered the attack with “Operation Buckshot” to reduce threats from future attacks. Among the steps: A ban on flash drives.

Unlike buckshot fired from a shotgun, let’s pray the operation wasn’t scattershot.

To add to our collective nightmares, Lynn points out that the 2008 attack “was not the only successful penetration.”

Read on:

“Adversaries have acquired thousands of files from U.S. networks and from the networks of U.S. allies and industry partners, including weapons blueprints, operational plans, and surveillance data.”

(Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what our own hackers have stolen from our enemies and friends?)

Lynn went on to say that the U.S. Cyber Command and Homeland Security are stepping up efforts to protect against more rogue flash drives and other attacks. But are you really comforted by the following statement:

“An enormous amount of foundational work remains, but the U.S. government has begun putting in place various initiatives to defend the United States in the digital age.”

Shouldn’t all this have been done a long time ago?

It’s not like cyberwar is anything new.

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