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Defense chief: Russian goals in Pentagon hack 'not clear'

Defense chief: Russian goals in Pentagon hack 'not clear'

Russia’s motivations for hacking the Pentagon’s networks “are not clear,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Vice in an interview released Friday.

“I don’t think we know entirely why,” Carter said. “But this can’t be good, right, for anybody to be inside our networks whatever their motivations or to be inside of the networks of some of our critical infrastructure protections.”

While unveiling the Pentagon’s new cyber strategy several weeks ago, Carter also revealed that Russian hackers had briefly infiltrated the Defense Department’s unclassified network.

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“We quickly identified the compromise and had a team of incident responders hunting down the intruders within 24 hours,” Carter told the Stanford University audience. “After learning valuable information about their tactics, we analyzed their network activity — associated with Russia — and then quickly kicked them off the network.”

The incident fed fears that Russia is stepping up its cyber espionage campaign against the United States. It’s also believed Moscow orchestrated the digital hits last fall that cracked the White House and State Department unclassified networks, gaining access to President Obama’s personal schedule and emails.

“It’s kind of an indication of the world in which we live,” Carter told Vice.

Most experts believe Russia’s cyber efforts are focused on intelligence gathering.

“They see this as a broader quest to get the information they need to portray themselves and their efforts in the best light in the world,” Laura Galante, threat intelligence manager at FireEye, recently told The Hill.

Security researchers have also noticed an uptick in Russia’s digital theft of intellectual property since Obama imposed sanctions last year on President Vladimir Putin’s government over its intervention in Ukraine.

“They're coming under a lot of pressure from the sanctions — their financial industry, their energy industry,” Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, told The Hill in April. “And they're obviously trying to leverage cyber intrusion and cyber espionage to compensate for that.”

More broadly, Carter stressed cybersecurity is “high up there” on the Pentagon’s list of priorities.  

Cyber “cuts through all of them,” Carter told Vice. “At the level of actual warfare, all of our weapons systems, our ships our tanks, our planes, they depend upon networks to function. So there’s no point in spending all that money on them if you don’t have secure networks.”