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Massive Utah cyberattacks — up to 300 million per day — may be aimed at NSA facility

First Published      Last Updated Feb 25 2016 06:32 pm

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) An aerial view of the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. Observers say the reform legislation passed by Congress limiting phone-record surveillance should have little impact on the Utah center, which is mainly used for storing foreign information.

10,000-fold increase » Since the facility was built, Utah government has had up to 300 milion attempted attacks a day.

Five years ago, Utah government computer systems faced 25,000 to 30,000 attempted cyberattacks every day.

At the time, Utah Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires thought that was massive. "But this last year we have had spikes of over 300 million attacks against the state databases" each day: a 10,000-fold increase.

Why? Squires says it is probably because Utah is home to the new, secretive National Security Agency computer center, and hackers believe they can somehow get to it through state computer systems.

"I really do believe it was all the attention drawn to the NSA facility. In the cyberworld, that's a big deal," Squires told a legislative budget committee Tuesday. "I watched as those increases jumped so much over the last few years. And talking to counterparts in other states, they weren't seeing that amount of increase like we were."



Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said the state should approach NSA or the federal government for money to help in defending against the cyberattacks.

"They are costing us a ton of money," Oda said. "They need to pony up."

Squires — whose department includes a team that investigates cybercrimes not only against the state, but also against its residents — said any time the state finds itself in controversy, cyberattacks seem to increase.

For example, Col. Daniel Fuhr, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, said news media photos of a controversial shooting of a young black man last year in Saratoga Springs showed a marked UHP car in the background.

Even though UHP was not involved in the shooting, Fuhr immediately had his personal credit cards and bank accounts come under heavy cyberattack.

He said it led to "long nights of ensuring your credit card numbers are intact, and all your bank numbers are changed over. My poor sweet wife was livid."

Squires said the leap in cyberattacks "tells you just how exponentially this has increased over the years, how many more criminals are realizing it is easier to steal from individuals, and businesses and government online and [with] less chance of getting caught" than robbing a bank.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, co-chairman of the committee, said it shows the increasing value of the state cybercrimes unit — which he added he personally realized when his identity was stolen and a criminal in Texas charged $80,000 worth of business-telephone equipment to him.

He said the company that was victimized "just reported it to insurance, and wrote it off," even though Hutchings noted the amount stolen was equivalent to 16 typical bank robberies.

"What a wonderful criminal environment to be in, where people don't even look for you," Hutchings said. "But if you rob 16 banks, you would be on the FBI's most wanted [list]. You rob it out of my credit, 'Eh, whatever, it's the cost of doing business.' "

 

 

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