Entries in Computers (5)


A Decade and $451M Later, FBI Computers Just Now Working Together

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It's been over 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the FBI's computers are just now working properly.

After years of frustration and hundreds of millions of dollars lost on a system that didn't work, the FBI has finally deployed a new $451 million computer system called Sentinel.

The web-based interface allows agents to widely search all FBI case files and data as they work investigations and track down leads, effectively moving FBI agents and analysts away from paper-based files to a streamlined computer program.

Sentinel follows a previous attempt by the FBI to create an electronic case management system called Virtual Case File. That system was abandoned in 2005 after significant management and technical problems with government contractors caused $170 million to be spent on a system that didn't work.

In 2006, the FBI awarded the new Sentinel contract to Lockheed Martin to deploy the system by 2009, but when cost concerns and other issues arose, the FBI took over the final deployment and development of Sentinel.  When the Bureau took over the project in 2010, they increased the total cost of the system by $26 million to $451 million.

The system allows agents to conduct searches of related case information to "connect the dots."  During a brief demonstration for reporters Tuesday morning at FBI Headquarters, a special agent showed how entering basic information from a case of "John Doe" was cross referenced with other matching information.  The system also allows FBI agents to scan in critical documents and manage case evidence.

The search function allows agents and supervisors in the field to have automatic updates sent to them when agents in other field offices enter information that may relate to their investigation.

The FBI was sharply criticized after the 9/11 attacks for failing to piece together information about suspected terrorists obtaining flight training in the United States.  The FBI was first warned in July 2001 by FBI Agent Ken Williams, who was assigned to the Phoenix Field Office, that individuals associated with Osama bin Laden were undertaking a coordinated effort to obtain flight training in Arizona.

The memo he wrote recommending that the FBI have liaison with flights schools in their areas was not widely read or acted upon.  In August 2001, officials at FBI headquarters did not realize the significance of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was seeking flight training in Minnesota and had financial connections to the 9/11 hijackers.

FBI Assistant Director Jeffrey Johnson, who oversees the FBI's Information Technology Engineering Division, said that between 18,000 to 21,000 users have been using the system daily since Sentinel was fully deployed on July 1, 2012.

"The deployment of Sentinel is an important step forward for FBI's information technology," FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a statement released Tuesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


America's Failing Grade on Cyber Attack Readiness

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The man in charge of America's cyber operations said that on a scale of one to 10, the nation's preparedness to deal with a major cyber attack on critical infrastructure sits at a dismal three.

"Somebody who finds vulnerability in our infrastructure could cause tremendous problems," Army Gen. Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency and chief of U.S. Cyber Command, told audience members at the Aspen Institute's annual security forum late Thursday, according to multiple reports. Alexander said that since 2009, attempted cyber attacks on the nation's infrastructure systems have risen seventeen-fold.

"I'm worried most about power. I'm worried about water. I think those are the ones that need the most help," he said.

Top current and former U.S. security officials have for years been decrying vulnerabilities in the computer networks of critical infrastructure industries from water treatment centers to electric power plants -- largely facilities owned and operated by private entities. In his remarks, Alexander reportedly pushed for greater role of government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security, in regulating security measures across industries.

Two years ago, computer experts discovered Stuxnet, a cyber weapon of unprecedented power and complexity that was apparently designed to damage an Iranian nuclear facility. The worm had demonstrated what computer experts had long though possible but had never actually seen: computer code that was no longer confined to disrupting computer systems internally but could reach out and physically alter how a facility works, or potentially destroy it.

Before the worm was alleged to have been a creation of a joint U.S.-Israeli cyber operation, other U.S. officials quickly realized that such a powerful cyber tool may be turned on the homeland. In a Senate Homeland Security committee hearing in November 2010, committee chairman Joe Lieberman (D.-Connecticut) warned the worm could be used as a "blueprint" for other "malicious hackers."

Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism advisor, cyber security expert and ABC News consultant, said in January that since Stuxnet was a "plug-and-play" worm, other hackers or foreign governments could take it, modify it and turn it against the U.S.

"You can take out certain components and put in others and you have a very powerful weapon that could be used against the electric power grid or any other system that has computers telling machines what to do," he said. "The best cyber weapon in the world has been spread around for other people to have copies of… I think it's very likely that somebody could do this."

Months later, the Department of Homeland Security revealed that the original Stuxnet worm did manage to infiltrate a computer system in the U.S., but since it was only tailored to hit the Iranian nuclear facility, it didn't do any known damage to the American facility.

Sean McGurk, a former DHS official who is now senior policy officer at the Industrial Controls Systems Information Sharing and Analysis Center, told a radio show in early June that he had already seen hackers modifying Stuxnet for their own uses. He also noted that as one of the most computer-reliant nations on the planet, the U.S. is also one of the most vulnerable.

"Because everything from elevators to prison doors are controlled by computers in our country, these systems lend themselves to manipulation and potentially to destruction," he said.

Since Stuxnet's discovery, cyber experts have found two other highly-sophisticated cyber weapons: Duqu, a cyber program built in the style of Stuxnet but for espionage rather than offensive operations, and Flame, the largest espionage program in history designed to capture any keystroke, image and conversation even near the infected system. Based on stunning similarities in the code of all three programs, researchers said they believe they were all created by either the same team, or at least teams of computer experts with access to each other's original work.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NASA, Air Force and Harvard Computers Hacked by ‘The Unknowns’

NASA(WASHINGTON) -- A previously unknown hackers‘ group calling themselves “The Unknowns” has compromised websites and obtained documents from NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the French Ministry of Defense, the European Space Agency, the Bahrain Ministry of Defense, the Thai Royal Navy and Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

The group posted several screenshots and documents on, showing the results of its intrusions.

A website that was breached at NASA’s Glenn Research Center shows a screen from the Interagency Advanced Power Group which conducts research on space and land-based energy programs with the Army, Air Force, Navy, Energy Department and NASA.

“Victims, we have released some of your documents and data,” the group wrote on a web posting. “We probably harmed you a bit but that’s not really our goal because if it was then all of your websites would be completely defaced but we know that within a week or two, the vulnerabilities [sic] we found will be patched and that’s what we’re actually looking for. We’re ready to give you full info on how we penetrated threw [sic] your databases and we’re ready to do this any time so just contact us, we will be looking forward for this.”

A NASA spokesman, contacted by ABC News, said, “NASA security officials detected an intrusion into the site on April 20 and took it offline. The agency takes the issue of IT security very seriously and at no point was sensitive or controlled information compromised. NASA has made significant progress to better protect the agency’s IT systems and is in the process of mitigating any remaining vulnerabilities that could allow intrusions in the future.”

A member of the group who uses the Twitter handle ZyklonB also claims to have penetrated computer systems at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A spokesman for the laboratory said, “The laboratory network was never compromised.”

The spokesman said that ZyklonB gained access to an external website where scientists make data publicly available for research purposes.  It is unclear if the group was trying to gain access to the lab’s more sensitive networks.

“We are a new hacker group, we have never been in any hacking team before,” the group said in a message posted Friday. “We are not Anonymous Version 2 and we are not against the US Government. We can’t call ourselves White Hat Hackers but we’re not Black Hat Hackers either… Now, we decided to hack these sites for a reason…These Websites are important, we understand that we harmed the victims and we’re sorry for that -- we’re soon going to email them all the information they need to know about the penetrations we did.”

“And for all the other websites out there: We’re coming, please, get ready, protect your website and stop us from hacking it, whoever you are. Contact us before we take action and we will help you.”

The group posted information from the Air Force Auxiliary’s Civil Air Patrol.

Capt. Chris Sukach a spokesperson for the Air Force Space Command, said in a statement that his group is investigating.  “For obvious security reasons, we generally do not discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats, or responses to them.  The Air Force will continue to monitor the situation and, as always, take appropriate action as necessary to protect Air Force networks and information.”

The group also claimed it compromised a research database connected to Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Dana Farber Cancer Center. An official briefed on the matter said that no patient data was on the server that was breached. It is unclear what information was compromised from the Harvard system.

Officials with the FBI declined to comment if they are investigating the computer breaches.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Automation Causing Airline Pilots to Lose Flying Skills, Says Study

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are airline pilots becoming too reliant on computers that do their flying for them?

Possibly, according to a new study by the Federal Aviation Administration, which contends that the industry is going through "automation addiction."

During flight, airplanes are usually on autopilot, being controlled by automated systems.  Pilots will generally only switch off autopilot to takeoff or land. Not many fliers know that pilots actually "fly" their planes for roughly only three minutes during a routine flight.

The FAA and other aviation experts are concerned that this reliance on computers in flight may cause pilots to lose hands-on skills and impair them if an emergency arises in which they have to take over control of an airplane.

"Two things are worrisome," says John Nance, an ABC News aviation consultant.  "One is when pilots spend so much time utilizing the electronics that when they go away or when they have to hand fly the airplane their skills have deteriorated; and two, the massive sophistication of some airliners today that are so much so that when they get into trouble and the pilots have to take over, sometimes it's impossible for the crew to know what the airplane is doing and what the proper response is."

The most glaring example of something going wrong was in February 2009, when a co-pilot programmed incorrect information on a passenger plane bound for Buffalo, New York.

When the captain noticed the jet traveling at unsafe speed, he pulled back on the control yoke instead of pushing it forward, causing the plane to stall and then plunge to the ground, killing all 50 people on board.

A similar erroneous pilot reaction to an autopilot's turning off also reportedly caused a deadly stall on Air France Flight 447; the plane crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 on board.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Osama Bin Laden: Officials to Release More Info on DNA Match, Intel

AFP/Getty ImagesUPDATE: A U.S. official tells ABC news that plans have changed, and that the information will not be released Friday, as was previously planned. The source notes that the information is still expected to be released, possibly over the weekend or early next week.

(WASHINGTON) -- The public will learn more Friday about the way officials identified the corpse of Osama bin Laden, as well as other information gleaned from the trove of data taken from the compound, ABC News has learned.

After Navy SEALs took photographs of bin Laden, CIA officials used facial recognition analysis to confirm that the man SEALs shot was in fact bin Laden. DNA samples matched those of bin Laden's relatives with 99.9 percent certainty.

President Obama decided against releasing photographs of bin Laden, fearing their graphic and gruesome nature could be inflammatory and put Americans at risk.

The government will also release more information from the computers seized in the raid on bin Laden's compound. On Thursday, ABC News reported on evidence of discussions about targeting U.S. rail lines and a possible attack marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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