Pentagon moving to enhance fighting force against a potential “cyber-Pearl Harbor”

posted at 6:34 pm on January 28, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Leon Panetta is wrapping up his tenure as secretary of Defense, but the Pentagon is moving forward with initiatives to beef up the United States’ cybersecurity forces and better prepare for what the government points to as the coming arms race of the evolving digital frontier. The NYT reports:

The expansion would increase the Defense Department’s Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900, an American official said. Defense officials acknowledged that a formidable challenge in the growth of the command would be finding, training and holding onto such a large number of qualified people. …

As part of the expansion, officials said the Pentagon was planning three different forces under Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that support the nation’s power grid and critical infrastructure; “combat mission forces” to plan and execute attacks on adversaries; and “cyber protection forces” to secure the Pentagon’s computer systems. …

In October, Mr. Panetta warned in dire terms that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial network and government. He said that “an aggressor nation” or extremist group could cause a national catastrophe, and that he was reacting to increasing assertiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

The Washington Post has more:

Although the command was established three years ago for some of these purposes, it has largely been consumed by the need to develop policy and legal frameworks and ensure that the military networks are defended. Current and former defense officials said the plan will allow the command to better fulfill its mission.

“Given the malicious actors that are out there and the development of the technology, in my mind, there’s little doubt that some adversary is going to attempt a significant cyberattack on the United States at some point,” said William J. Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary who helped fashion the Pentagon’s cybersecurity strategy. “The only question is whether we’re going to take the necessary steps like this one to deflect the impact of the attack in advance or . . . read about the steps we should have taken in some post-attack commission report.”

There are probably two sides to this coin, and I don’t think that the potential for government-overreach, privacy-infringement, and crony-capitalism should ever be dismissed out of hand; but the threat of aggressive and damaging cyberattacks from nefarious actors is definitely not going away, as we’ve already seen recently with suspected attacks coming out of Iran. In this increasingly digital age, both our combat operations and our national infrastructure at home are increasingly reliant on the types of technologies that can be vulnerable to cyberattacks, a much more feasible option for any enemies whose physical military might can never hope to even come close to competing with ours — which is just one of the reasons why its mind-numbingly weird that we’re going after “spending cuts” in our defense budget before even bothering with anything else.

Hmm. I’m hoping we’ll hear more about this and whither Hagel plans to take the program in his upcoming confirmation hearings.


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I’d watch what they are doing. Anything they say they are protecting against…they are probably doing.

tomas on January 28, 2013 at 6:39 PM

…we are SO MUCH weaker!

KOOLAID2 on January 28, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?

Bmore on January 28, 2013 at 6:40 PM

Shouldn’t major infrastructure networks be fully isolated from the net – accessible only from within the system?

OldEnglish on January 28, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Give Obumble a skeeter gun and I’ll bet he can kill as many of those cybers as he has skeets.
They’ll be runnin fer the hills….

dentarthurdent on January 28, 2013 at 6:50 PM

I wouldn’t trust any security system set up by these people. Does anyone seriously believe that US security is their purpose?

Buddahpundit on January 28, 2013 at 6:59 PM

Die Hard 4 or 5 or 10? Firesale? :-)

tommy71 on January 28, 2013 at 7:02 PM

I don’t think that the potential for government-overreach, privacy-infringement, and crony-capitalism should ever be dismissed out of hand; but the threat of aggressive and damaging cyberattacks from nefarious actors is definitely not going away

Are you KIDDING me? We have the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and DHS in general currently monitoring world wide internet traffic.

Why in the hell would the DoD need an additional 4,000 people for a cyber command unit on top of all that?

The threat of cyber terrorism is way overblown, its not like a few terrorists in a cave somewhere can write some easy code and bring down the US’s infrastructure.

Timin203 on January 28, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Pentagon moving to enhance fighting force against a potential “cyber-Pearl Harbor” email leak of Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Glenn Jericho on January 28, 2013 at 7:15 PM

Shouldn’t major infrastructure networks be fully isolated from the net – accessible only from within the system?

OldEnglish on January 28, 2013 at 6:41 PM

“Major infrastructure” is not running Windows 7 on an unsecured network. It’s mostly unix coding, totally internal, and all external computers do is monitor it. Conceivably someone could gain access through the firewall, get into the Windows interface, have the knowledge and skill to plant malicious code, and withdraw without being noticed. That, theoretically, is always possible, no matter what security is present.

However, it’s not something that is likely to happen, or to have any real effect. Most computer-run systems have manual over rides because everyone knows programmers aren’t perfect and things can and do go wrong even without outside intervention.

Timin203 on January 28, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Timin203 on January 28, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Thank you for the clarification, it sounds less dangerous than the hype would suggest.

OldEnglish on January 28, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Pentagon moving to enhance fighting force against a potential “cyber-Pearl Harbor”

Let’s make sure we have enough women in this effort!!

HondaV65 on January 28, 2013 at 7:21 PM

Thank you for the clarification, it sounds less dangerous than the hype would suggest.

OldEnglish on January 28, 2013 at 7:20 PM

I mean, it certainly isn’t something we should IGNORE, but taking standard security precautions, that basically every company in america takes to protect data is sufficient to stop just about any data breach.

Yes, it can still happen, but it would be a huge effort (and probably require a state actor, which would be an act of war) for what kind of pay off? Maybe forcing a utility off line for a few hours to fix a computer glitch? I’m talking like electric sub stations and water pumps.

Nuclear power plants and things that could really cause damage are protected much more securely then I described. The pentagon should worry about protecting the computers on their ships and with confidential data, and nothing else.

I don’t see why they’d legitimately want 4,000 additional people.

Timin203 on January 28, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Panetta is an incompetent boob. Typical of the obumble administration.

ultracon on January 28, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Meanwhile in the real world.

Bmore on January 28, 2013 at 8:05 PM

I’d watch what they are doing. Anything they say they are protecting against…they are probably doing.

tomas on January 28, 2013 at 6:39 PM

I wouldn’t be surprised.
When a rag-tag cluster of computer nerds can supposedly hack computer systems that should have the most cutting edge security, it make you wonder.

Mimzey on January 28, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Timin203 on January 28, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Thanks again.

OldEnglish on January 28, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Keep in mind that the majority of this workforce are contractors paid the least by companies winning the support contracts. They usually have 6 months to 1 year to comply with 8570.01 training requirements.

70% or better of all cyber vulnerabilities are internal threats.

Roy Rogers on January 29, 2013 at 6:59 AM

“cyber Pearl Harbor” sounds like ginning up another crisis. And we can NEVER let a good, fearful crisis go to waste.

search4truth on January 29, 2013 at 10:27 AM