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Hagel Says Central Command Twitter Hack 'No Big Deal'

 A screen capture of CENTCOM's hacked Twitter account.
A screen capture of CENTCOM's hacked Twitter account.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the hacking of Central Command's Twitter and YouTube accounts amounted to little more than Internet vandalism but was emblematic of the growing threats to the military in cyberspace.

"It was a violation, it wasn't a big deal," Hagel told airmen Tuesday at a town hall meeting at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

However, Hagel said the posting of threats to U.S. troops and propaganda videos supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on CentCom's social media pages "shows you how dangerous these different groups have become. These are things that are realities we have to deal with."

Hagel was at Whiteman at the start of a cross-country tour of U.S. military bases to say farewell to troops and their families before leaving his post as defense secretary. Senate confirmation hearings were expected to begin in early February for former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who has been nominated by President Obama to succeed Hagel.

CentCom's Twitter and YouTube accounts were back in operation Tuesday and CentCom was working with the FBI to find out who hacked them, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

"We're Back," CentCom said in its first Twitter post since the handle was temporarily suspended.

"No classified information was compromised or published" at CentCom, and there was also "no reason to believe that DoD servers or networks or systems were compromised," Warren said.

To protect against future hacks, CentCom and the Pentagon were changing passwords, but no guidelines have yet been sent to the military as a whole, Warren said.

CentCom suspended its Twitter and YouTube accounts Monday as President Obama was making an address on cybersecurity at the Federal Trade Commission. The hackers called themselves the "Cyber Caliphate" and said on Twitter to the troops that "we know everything about you, your wives and your children."

At a White Houe meeting with the Congressional leadership Tuesday, Obama said that cybersecurity would be a main topic of his State of the Union address to the nation next week.

"One of the things we're going to be talking about is cybersecurity." Obama said of the State of the Union.

"With the Sony attacks that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do, both public and private sector, to strengthen our cybersecurity," Obama said.

The Sony reference was to the hacking of Sony Pictures late last year, allegedly by North Korea.

At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday, Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, the committee's chairman, said that "despite limited Internet capability in North Korea, the fact is that there is an elite cyber warfare unit (in North Korea) that defectors have told us about."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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