Sunday morning brought with it a scathing report out of the Free Beacon which said the White House cyber security had been breached in the same section of Obama’s “Nuclear Football”—The White House Military Office (WHMO).
From Bill Gertz of the Beacon:
Hackers linked to China’s government broke into one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, breaching a system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands, according to defense and intelligence officials familiar with the incident.
Obama’s “Nuclear Football” is the suitcase in which the president carries the codes for nuclear launch.
Following The Beacon report, came a report from Politico, in which an official, unsolicited by reporters, offered a statement. The official “confirmed there was an attempted spear phishing hack but said that it affected an unclassified network, was “isolated” and that there was no evidence that any data had been stolen.”
There’s two things that should be mentioned in both reports, but are conspicuously absent.
Number one: A spear phishing hack isn’t really a hack, nor is it that sophisticated. It’s when a user opens an email that looks official, which then asks for verification of certain private details, like passwords or detailed user information.
These hacks most often take the form of a private company that’s been hacked, let’s say Paypal, which then asks for “verification” of the users account. They can also seem to come from inside the network or company, from a higher up or colleague—with a PDF attached that, once opened, injects a trojan into the system. These emails are nearly indistinguishable from the real ones a user would get from the actual company or individual.
The officials who spoke with both The Beacon and Politico made great pains to convey that ‘no classified information’ had been breached,
Number two: An unclassified network is the government’s way of saying “basic internet.” In the military, or in government, there are two networks: there’s the unclassified, or the “low side,” and there’s the encrypted classified, or the “high side.”
Any potentially harmful or Top Secret information travels along, or is saved within, the “high side,” which is highly encrypted, and whose encryption changes automatically in undisclosed periods of time.
So, these phishing emails penetrated the email of a employee on the “low side” network, which shares very little difference with any private company’s user network.
In short, it’s probably not as bad as it sounds, even it casts further doubt on White House intelligence security.