Screen capture of Defense Department virtual town hall regarding coronavirus March 16.

Screen capture of Defense Department virtual town hall regarding coronavirus March 16. DOD via DVIDS

Attacks on DOD Networks Soar as Telework Inflicts ‘Unprecedented’ Loads

As DOD scrambles to find equipment for those who can work from home, Pentagon leaders tell personnel: ‘No hand-shaking, no high-fives,” and clean your workstations.

Cyber attacks on Defense Department networks increased over the weekend as teleworking employees put “unprecedented” loads on the military’s computer networks. 

“They’re already taking advantage of the situation and the environment that we have on hand,” Essye Miller, DOD’s principal deputy chief information officer, told department employees at a Monday morning “virtual town hall.

To protect Defense Department networks, the Pentagon is barring users from accessing YouTube and other streaming services. It’s one of several concerns officials expressed about rapidly moving the federal government’s largest agency toward “maximized telework.” 

“Given the increased telework demand, we’ve seen a tremendous increase on the network, unprecedented demand just over the last weekend or so,” Miller said. “As such, we’re taking actions of shutting down YouTube, effective tonight. We will start throttling [back] streaming services today. We’re seeing increased use on things like Pandora and other streaming music services. We ask if use of these services are not mission-essential that you refrain from using them on the DOD network.”

Of course, much of what the Pentagon does is classified and cannot be done from outside secure facilities and secure networks. For those employees, working from home remains impossible.

“You will not have the capacity, obviously, to log on to a classified system from your home,” said Thomas Muir, the Pentagon’s acting director of administration, and director of Washington Headquarters Services. “You will be required to perform those duties at the workplace.” 

The Pentagon has moved to Health Protection Condition Bravo, or HPCON B. Miller and other defense officials spoke to the department’s global workforce via public livestream on the military’s DVIDS imagery site.

So far, there are no positive cases of coronavirus among Pentagon employees, Muir said. Pentagon crews have increased their frequency of cleaning common areas and surfaces, like door handles and bathrooms. Food courts, including Market Basket, are discontinuing open buffet service. 

But employees were called upon to disinfect their own workspaces. Many of the Pentagon’s interior rooms are behind lock and key, especially where classified work occurs. 

A few miles away, the Armed Forces Retirement Home has been moved to HPCON C, one level higher than the Pentagon, to provide added protection for the elderly population there.

The military fosters a culture of showing up for hardship duty, but Muir said now is not the time for heroes that ignore symptoms of illness. 

"If you are sick, go home," he said. 

And if you have to stay home, then stay home.

“What ‘stay at home’ means,” he said, is “don’t go to the grocery store, don’t go out to bars and restaurants, don’t do your social activities. Maintain social distancing” of six feet and use remote conferencing, like the town hall. 

Muir continued: “no hand-shaking, no high-fives, no personal contact. That protects your health, your families’ health, and your co-workers health and their families' health. All of us need to take actions that reduce the threat we pose to others, and the threat that we pose to ourselves and our families by exposing ourselves to workspaces or colleagues inside that social distancing requirement. So, once again, I encourage you to live up to your social distancing requirements.”

Daniel Walsh, acting director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, said that all personnel entering the Pentagon — including the river and mall entrances — will be required to swipe their building access card, to track movements, while workers will be limited to escorting no more than three official guest visitors at a time. 

“We are relying on you to self-report to your supervisor. We admire the grit and the resilience and the strength of the population that we get to serve. It’s part of our culture that you stay in the fight,” Walsh said, but not in these times. “Here, being strong means admitting that you’re not feeling well, telling your supervisor you can’t come to work. Mission accomplishment and contribution here (usually means) often showing up, no matter what, all hours, day and night, all weather. Here, not showing up can be supporting the mission, if it’s keeping you, your family, other members of the department safe from potential infection by the coronavirus.” 

Officials told all employees to check frequently for guidance updates at the WHS website.