The Pentagon's newest medal: Recognition for achievements in cyber-combat

On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order meant to enhance our country’s cyber-defenses by directing government officials to improve the channels of cybersecurity information-sharing between the federal entities and companies that manage the various aspects of our digital infrastructure. Reviews were mixed, via Reuters:

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed an executive order seeking better protection of the country’s critical infrastructure from cyber attacks that are a growing concern to the economy and national security.

The long-expected executive order, unveiled in the State of the Union speech, follows last year’s failed attempt by the U.S. Congress to pass a law to confront continuing electronic attacks on the networks of U.S. companies and government agencies.

The order, which does not have the same force as law, directs federal authorities to improve information sharing on cyber threats – including some that may be classified – with companies that provide or support critical infrastructure. …

His bill last year passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate, largely because of concerns about expansion of federal regulations and protecting private information when it comes to sharing private data with the government.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the powerful business lobby, reiterated its opposition to “expansion or creation of new regulatory regimes” and called Obama’s order unnecessary.

The White House has been turning up the volume on emphasizing the clutch importance of bettering our cyber defenses, particularly via Departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Pentagon’s latest initiative to beef up their cyber security force, and the effort to get some real bipartisan legislation going again got some real estate in last night’s State of the Union:

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber attacks.

Now, we know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems.

We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy. That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information-sharing and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.

But now — now Congress must act, as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks. This is something we should be able to get done on a bipartisan basis.

But if the cyber networks are a new frontier of large-scale warfare, against all enemies both foreign and domestic, then the people manning their virtual battle stations are also major players in our defense capabilities. The AP reports that the Defense Department has officially created a new medal recognizing “extraordinary achievement” in cyber-security related to a military operation after 9/11/2001 — marking the first creation of a new military accolade since the Bronze Star in 1944. The times, they are a-changin’:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that for the first time the Pentagon is creating a medal that can be awarded to troops who have a direct impact on combat operations, but do it from afar.

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta said. “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”

The work they do “does contribute to the success of combat operations, particularly when they remove the enemy from the field of battle, even if those actions are physically removed from the fight,” he said. …

A recognition of the evolving 21st Century warfare, the medal will be considered a bit higher in ranking than the Bronze Star, but is lower than the Silver Star, defense officials said.

Iiinteresting. On the one hand, I absolutely agree that cyber-security is of growing and paramount importance in this day and age, and we’re fending off hostile forces on that front on the regular; but does the honor deserve the assigned ranking when it’s meant for those who have never actually set foot on the battlefield? Discuss.