Report: $91 million spent on secret NSA tests probing domestic computer systems

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The National Security Agency is conducting secret tests on the computer systems of U.S. private sector entities, including public utilities, a CNET report revealed this week.

The secret program, dubbed Perfect Citizen, is part of an effort by the government to improve security systems in the private sector and test offensive operations against enemies’ computer systems.

Targets reportedly include power grids and gas pipelines. The NSA’s operation reportedly probes their computer systems for vulnerabilities as part of a larger cybersecurity and cyberwarfare initiative.

Details about the program were revealed through documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based research nonprofit.

Of the 190 pages obtained by EPIC about the program, 98 were heavily redacted for a number of reasons, including portions labeled “classified top secret.”

The program’s existence was first revealed in a 2010 Wall Street Journal report.

CNET noted that an NSA spokesperson had told the publication at the time that the the program did not involve the agency conducting any communications monitoring “or the placement of sensors on utility company systems.”

EPIC, CNET now reports, hopes the new FOIA documents “may help disprove” the NSA’s argument that Perfect Citizen doesn’t involve monitoring private networks.

The Washington Post reported in May that the Pentagon was accelerating its research and development of cyberweapons capable of disrupting enemy military networks — even those not connected to the Internet.

The level of disclosed spending on offensive and defensive spending by the Pentagon on cyberweapons and cybersecurity technology for 2012 was $3.4 billion, according to the Post.

The Pentagon has requested the same amount for the 2013 fiscal year.

The Hill reported late last week that the White House could issue a much-anticipated cybersecurity executive order as early as January.

Perfect Citizen, developed by cybersecurity defense contractor Raytheon under a $91 million contract, is reportedly slated to continue until at least September 2014.

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