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

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.