NEW YORK — This cyber attack didn't go after people playing war games on their PlayStations. It targeted a company that helps the U.S. military do the real thing.
Lockheed Martin said it was the recent target of a "significant and tenacious" hack, although the defense contractor and the Department of Homeland Security insist the attack was thwarted before any critical data was stolen. The effort highlighted the fact that some hackers, including many working for foreign governments, set their sights on information that has the potential to be far more devastating than accessing credit cards.
Information security experts say a rash of cyber attacks this year — including a large security breach at Sony last month that affected millions of PlayStation users — has emboldened hackers and made them more willing to pursue sensitive information.
"2011 has really lit up the boards in terms of data breaches," said Josh Shaul, chief technology officer at New York-based Application Security, one of the largest database security software makers. "The list of targets just grows and grows."
Lockheed Martin said in a statement Saturday that it detected the May 21 attack "almost immediately" and took countermeasures.
"Our systems remain secure; no customer, program or employee personal data has been compromised," the Bethesda, Md., company said. Neither Lockheed Martin nor federal agencies would reveal specifics of the attack, or its origins.
Analysts said the latest attack would likely spur rival defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Boeing to take additional steps to safeguard their systems.
Over the past several years, the U.S. government has become more aggressive in its efforts to tackle cybercrime, developing strategies to beef up government computer systems, expand cooperation with other countries and improve coordination with the private sector. President Barack Obama declared cybersecurity a top priority shortly after taking office in 2009.
Still, the attacks have continued. William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, said in January that more than 100 foreign intelligence agencies have tried to breach U.S. defense computer networks, largely to steal military plans and weapons systems designs.
China is often pointed to as a source of cyber attacks because a large amount of malware, or malicious software, originates from there. The government denies it is involved, but experts say the high skill level of some attacks suggests the Chinese military, a leader in cyberwarfare research, or other agencies might be stealing technology and trade secrets to help state companies.
Rich Mogull, analyst and CEO of Phoenix-based security research firm Securosis, noted: "This is just what countries do," he said. "It's the unfortunate reality of how the world works."