Almost “every three-letter agency” in Washington, D.C., has assisted in an investigation into the possibility that a recent deadly collision involving a Navy destroyer in the Pacific was caused by a cyberattack, the vice chief of Naval Operations told lawmakers this week.
And, said Adm. Bill Moran, despite finding no evidence of an attack so far, the probe continues.
“It’s relatively new ground for us; this is the first time we’ve sent a team from our Cyber Command here in Washington,” Moran told a House Armed Services Committee panel Thursday.
Moran is now tasked with overseeing a wide-ranging review into Navy operations and training after the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker off the Straits of Malacca outside Singapore Aug. 21. The collision, which caused the deaths of 10 sailors, was the second deadly destroyer collision in just two months, following a June 17 disaster with the destroyer Fitzgerald that left seven dead.
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The day of the McCain crash, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters that the possibility of cyber intrusion or another kind of external attack was already being investigated, though no evidence pointed to that.
“Everything we operate has a cyber component to it, networks, gear, radios, everything,” Moran said. “And so we want to make sure we understand that that is not -- we want to eliminate that as a potential causal factor to a mishap.”
A team from the U.S. 10th Fleet is now in Singapore, Moran said, to assess all computer and network information from the McCain and find out if any anomalies or disruptions exist in the data.
In a defense environment in which the possibility of cyberattacks is becoming an increasingly frightening reality, these first-time investigative measures the Navy is taking may become the new normal for mishap investigations. In August, President Donald Trump announced he planned to make U.S. Cyber Command a unified combatant command equivalent to U.S. Central Command in recognition of the growing threat.
“There’s a team of experts … that are in place and will use their knowledge of how they would attack to determine whether we've been attacked. And they'll know where to go look,” Moran said.
“This is the first time we've done this, and we're not stopping," he added. "This is to try to institutionalize doing cyber as part of any mishap, aviation, submarine, you name it. We need to go look at it as an order of business and not hand wave it to it's cyber. So that's where we're headed.”
Investigations into the causes of the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions are still ongoing. The review overseen by Moran into Navy practices and procedures is slated to be complete in late October.
Richardson and Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer are set to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week to answer lawmakers’ questions about the collisions.