Military 'Spear Phishing' Scams Surge as Pentagon Shifts to Telework

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Hands typing on keyboard.
Hands typing on keyboard. (Sharon Singleton/U.S. Air Force)

A surge in "spear phishing' scams has caused trouble for the military as many Defense Department personnel switch to telework, DoD cyber security officials said Monday.

"They get you to click on websites that redirect you to compromise yourself," Air Force Lt. Gen. B.J. Shwedo said of the scammers who work cyber cons aimed at getting usernames and passwords or inserting malware by posing as trustworthy entities.

Shwedo, the chief information officer for the Joint Staff, declined to name any top officials who had been targeted.

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"That would give the bad guys insight on who we're tracking," he said Monday at a Pentagon briefing.

Russia and China have frequently been singled out in the past by DoD and other government agencies as sources of major cyber attacks on U.S. institutions and the business community. But Dana Deasy, DoD's chief information officer, also declined to say who was responsible for the spear phishing.

One of the main factors in keeping DoD's workforce cyber secure "is the fact that we don't publish where we get the attack vectors from, because that would just give insight to the adversary to know how to vector and pivot and change their tactics and techniques," Deasy said.

At the briefing, Deasy and Schwedo outlined a huge increase in telework at DoD and across the service branches that mirrored the efforts of American society as a whole to rely to the extent possible on working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis under government guidance on social distancing.

"The way we work has changed dramatically within the last month" in the effort to achieve "maximum telework capability," Deasy said, and a "COVID-19 readiness task force" has been set up to oversee the process.

In addition, laptops, tablets and network security equipment have been distributed to about 2,000 teleworking DoD personnel, Deasy said.

As an example of how the task force has confronted networking problems, Deasy cited the two military field hospitals that were set up in New Orleans. He said the site needed a one-gigabyte capacity that normally would have taken months of planning.

"The job was completed in one day," he said.

The efforts to expand opportunities to work remotely has resulted in huge increases in telework in the service branches, Shwedo said.

"The Army alone has roughly 800,000 telework-enabled members on the DoD networks and the overall demands are increasing daily," Shwedo said.

"The Navy, for instance, which just had 100,000 remote workers on its network before the pandemic, currently has 250,000 workers, and planned improvements in the next two or three weeks will bring the total [in the Navy] to 500,000 remote users," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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