Government Computers Under Attack

generic data binary technology internet security pentagon

Computer systems, vital to national defense, are under a growing assault from Internet hackers, cyber terrorists and foreign spies looking to steal secrets and disrupt government operations.

"All around the country, there are literally thousands of attacks every day," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

Secretary Chertoff knows this firsthand; DHS computer networks have already been compromised. So have computers at the Departments of State and Commerce.

Hackers have even breached systems at the Pentagon, infiltrating the email of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. U.S. officials have traced many of the attacks to hackers inside the Chinese government.

James Mulvenon works for the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. Mulvenon, an expert in computer tactics, showed CBS News a Chinese military manual that says Internet attacks are part of a strategy to probe for weaknesses that could be exploited in future conflicts.

"The Chinese military in particular perceives that a computer network attack offers it a unique capability that they could use against foes like the United States," Mulvenon told Orr.

In response, the U.S. is implementing a classified plan aimed at detecting and preventing Internet attacks.

CBS News has learned the president wants six billion dollars just to get started.

"We're really looking to see whether we can have a game changer," Secretary Chertoff said, "really move the level of protection to a much more robust basis."

So far foreign hackers have not crashed any critical systems, but it's unclear how much information has been stolen - compromised secrets that could be used against us.