Defense contractors are receiving classified information on hacker threats to their computers.
In response to an unprecedented wave of attacks on the Defense Department's computer networks, and possible theft of information about U.S. weapons systems by foreign governments, the Pentagon has quietly begun sharing classified intelligence about hackers and online threats with the country's biggest defense contractors. The intelligence-sharing program began almost two years ago, after top Pentagon leaders realized that hackers were trying to steal information not just by breaking into government computers but also by going after corporations that contract with the government. These private computers and networks often contain the same sensitive and classified information found in the government's systems. The new intelligence partnership, which has not been previously reported, is known as the Defense Industrial Base initiative, or "the DIB." The department formally launched the program in September 2007, but it took a year to work out a legal arrangement by which the contractors and the government could confidentially share information. In mid-2008, the effort ramped up after what was described as a hair-raising meeting in a secured facility at the Pentagon in which officials gave temporary security clearances to chief executives from the biggest defense firms and delivered a no-holds-barred briefing on the range of successful cyberattacks launched against the government and their companies. The executives "went in with dark hair and came out with white hair," said James Lewis, a prominent cyber-security expert and a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who is familiar with the meeting. "I think that was a shocker for most people."