Military Embedded Systems

Shamoon virus, DoD cybersecurity role defined by Panetta


October 12, 2012

Brandon Lewis

Technology Editor

Embedded Computing Design

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defined Department of Defense (DoD) obligations to cybersecurity during a speech in New York yesterday to the Business Executives for National Security (BENS). The speech held at the USS Intrepid Museum focused on Denial of Service (DoS) attacks recently experienced by major U.S. companies as a primary concern, and highlighted the Shamoon virus unleashed in Saudi Arabia.

According to Panetta, the Shamoon virus and its subsequent attacks are perhaps the most destructive infections to the private sector yet. “Shamoon included a routine called a ‘wiper,’ coded to self-execute,” said the Secretary. “This routine replaced crucial system files with an image of a burning U.S. flag. It also put additional ‘garbage’ data that overwrote all the real data on the machine. The more than 30,000 computers it infected were rendered useless, and had to be replaced.”

Shamoon targets the control systems of utility and transportation networks. The recent Shamoon attack on Saudi Arabia infected computers at state oil company ARAMCO.

Describing the role of the DoD, Panetta asserted the agency’s role in defending government networks, but also the new emphasis on deterring cyber attacks from national interests. “The new rules will make clear that the Department has a responsibility not only to defend DoD’s networks, but also to be prepared to defend the nation and our national interests against an attack in or through cyberspace,” he said. “These new rules will make the Department more agile and provide us with the ability to confront major threats quickly.”

As part of the deterrence effort, the DoD has put a particular emphasis on the importance of recognizing cyber attackers. To this, the Secretary asserted that “the Department has made significant advances in solving a problem that makes deterring cyber adversaries more complex: the difficulty of identifying the origins of an attack.”

However, the Secretary also reaffirmed the need for the private sector to cooperate in information sharing in order to defend their networks. Speaking on the recently blocked Cybersecurity Act of 2012, Panetta continued that “to defend those networks more effectively, we must share information between the government and the private sector about threats in cyberspace … companies should be able to share specific threat information with the government without the prospect of lawsuits hanging over their head.”

The DoD’s role in cyber defense is currently a supporting one, with the Department of Homeland Security leading federal defense and the FBI driving legal enforcement.