WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A string of raids that plucked data from Defense Department and other U.S. computers appears to have been launched from Russia, the top U.S. cybercop told Congress Wednesday.
Disclosing a probe he said had been under way for more than a year, Michael Vatis of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said intruders had stolen ``unclassified but still-sensitive information about essentially defense/technical research matters.''
``About the furthest I can go is to say the intrusions appear to originate in Russia,'' said Vatis, director of the FBI-led National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), a bulwark to detect and deter threats to U.S. electronic lifelines.
An ongoing investigation, code-named Moonlight Maze, involved U.S. agencies and their international counterparts, Vatis told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology and Terrorism.
At issue, he said, were ``a series of widespread intrusions, into Defense Department, other federal government agencies and private-sector computer networks.''
Vatis did not spell out whether the intrusions were continuing nor who might be behind them in Russia. In an interview with Reuters last week, he had declined comment on the case, as had other federal officials.
Sen. Robert Bennett, who has received classified briefings on ``information warfare'' as chairman of the special committee on the Year 2000 problem, said the intruders vaccuumed up vast amounts of publicly available data over at least several months.
One possibility was that they had burrowed into ``places we don't know about and (are) still getting information that we can't trace,'' the Utah Republican said in an interview with Reuters.
A U.S. official said suspects in the case apparently were from the Russian Academy of Sciences, a government-supported organization said to interact with Russia's top military labs.
Susan Hansen, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department knew of no classified information that had been jeopardized in the Moonlight Maze intrusions.
Vatis made his comments in reply to a question from panel chairman Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona.
Although key U.S. networks have escaped ``serious harm'' so far, ``our luck is likely to run out unless we take aggressive steps'' to plug security gaps, Kyl said.
Vatis linked the greatest potential national-security threat to ``information warfare,'' the ability to launch viruses and other cyber weapons against the bits and bytes that glue together modern life.
Among countries believed to have developed offensive information warfare capabilities are China, France, India, Iraq, Russia and South Korea, according to the National Communications System, a Defense Department-led interagency task force to ensure national-security links.
In a March report, the task force also named Bulgaria and Cuba as having built limited offensive capabilities. It said Japan and Israel likely were working on them.
Vatis said the FBI's caseload for computer hacking and network-intrusion cases had doubled for each of the last two years, with more than 800 cases pending.