The New Warfighters

The defense of cyberspace proves to be as important as that of land, sea and air

As we go about our day, preoccupied with work, family, friends and activities, many of us have the luxury of never thinking about cyberwarfare. But know that right this second, more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations are trying to hack into our military networks. A scary thought, isn’t it? To defend our nation against this threat, the Pentagon is partnering with NATO allies and the private sector.

The Good Fight
The Pentagon’s new cybersecurity strategy will treat cyberspace as a domain of potential warfare, one that requires early-warning active defenses to counteract offenses. Fourteen nations -- China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Estonia, Belarus, Brazil, India, Israel, Italy, Qatar, South Korea and South Africa -- have agreed to collaborate with the United States to develop cyberwarfare initiatives.

As reported in Foreign Affairs magazine by William J. Lynn III, U.S. deputy secretary of defense, “the worst breach of U.S. military computers in history” occurred only two years ago.

A flash drive that contained a malicious computer code -- believed to be the work of a foreign intelligence agency -- was inserted into a U.S. military laptop at a base in the Middle East. The code spread undetected through classified and unclassified systems and acted as a bridge to transfer data to foreign servers. The extent of the breach is unknown, but it was enough for the U.S. Department of Defense to deem it a significant compromise.

The Pentagon’s operation to counter the attack, known as Operation Buckshot Yankee, led to the creation of the United States Cyber Command (USCC) to protect military networks.

USCC is an armed forces subunified command subordinate to the U.S. Strategic Command. It was officially activated May 21, 2010, and will be fully operational by this month.

USCC plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks.

When directed, USCC prepares to conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations to enable actions in all domains, ensuring U.S./allied freedom of action in cyberspace while denying the same to our adversaries.

Defending Against Threats
Lynn said the Defense Department has 15,000 networks and 7 million computing devices operating in dozens of countries, with 90,000 people working to thwart the thousands of probes and millions of scans that occur every day. And sometimes, the hackers succeed.

It is a fact that thousands of U.S. and ally files containing weapons blueprints, operational plans and surveillance data already have fallen into the wrong hands.

The scope of USCC is limited to the military; the Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, protects government and corporate infrastructures. In order to strengthen government networks, the Pentagon is working with Homeland Security and U.S. allies to create cybersecurity initiatives to protect government networks and critical infrastructure and will expand these defenses internationally.

In his article, Lynn outlines five pillars of the department’s emerging cybersecurity policy:

  • Cyber must be recognized as a warfare domain equal to land, sea and air;
  • Any defensive posture must go beyond “good hygiene” to include sophisticated and accurate operations that allow rapid response;
  • Cyber defenses must reach beyond the department’s dot-mil world into commercial networks, as governed by Homeland Security;
  • Cyber defenses must be pursued with international allies for an effective “shared warning” of threats; and
  • The Defense Department must help to maintain and leverage U.S. technological dominance and improve the acquisitions process to keep up with the speed and agility of the information technology industry.

According to Lynn, the new cyber strategy, called “Cyberstrategy 3.0,” will be released in the fall and will address statutory changes needed for cyber defense and the capability for automated defenses, such as the ability to block malware at top speed.

Cyberspace has proven equal to air, sea, land and space, and must be defended as aggressively.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Security Today.

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