By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2010 – Cybersecurity is seizing more attention and budget dollars from the Defense Department at a time when China’s alleged cyber attack on Google has underscored the urgency of the threat and the vulnerability of U.S. networks.
The Pentagon’s second-ranking official described cyber threats as his top worry, and a chorus of other defense and government officials recently sounded similar distress signals over the prospect of cyber war.
“I’m often asked what keeps me up at night,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said last month. “No. 1 is the cyber threat. If we don’t maintain our capabilities to defend our networks in the face of an attack, the consequences for our military, and indeed for our whole national security, could be dire.”
In the Pentagon’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal unveiled this week, cybersecurity received a $105 million increase from the previous year. The department’s sub-command dedicated to cyber warfare — a facility in Fort Meade, Md., known as U.S. Cyber Command — is slated for a fiscal 2011 budget of $139 million under the Air Force budget proposal, in addition to funding from the U.S Strategic Command, which oversees its operations.
At the same time, cybersecurity is featured prominently in a broad department self-assessment known as the Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated report Pentagon officials released this week. Given the military’s dependence on information networks, the QDR states, it’s not surprising this infrastructure has emerged as a key target.
“Indeed, these networks are infiltrated daily by a myriad of sources,” the report says, “ranging from small groups of individuals to some of the largest countries in the world.”
U.S. military and corporate concern about cyber security was proved warranted by an alleged attack allegedly conducted by Chinese hackers on Google’s networks that reportedly came in a wave of intrusions beginning in December, and which the search engine company publicly revealed last month.
“The recent intrusion of Google is yet another wake-up call about just how seriously we have to take this program,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing yesterday.
“Cyber defenders right now have to spend more and work harder than the attackers do,” he said. “And our efforts, frankly, are not strong enough to recognize [and] deal with that reality.”
At another hearing this week, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the growing cyber threat reflects the pace of change and rate of globalization that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. Gone are the days when state actors posed the primary threat to U.S. national security, he said.
“But as the global economy integrates, many cyber threats now focus on economic or nongovernment targets, as we have seen with the recent cyber attack on Google,” Mueller told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Targets in the private sector are at least as vulnerable as traditional targets, and the damage can be just as great.”
For his part, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command reflects the increasing recognition of cybersecurity as a department priority. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, Gates sounded a confident tone in describing the safety of the military’s classified networks.
“But frankly, we’re not happy with where we are,” he told senators in the Feb. 2 hearing. “I think we’re in good shape now, but we look with concern to the future. And we think a lot more needs to be done.”
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said the ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace is a capability shared among U.S. federal agencies. She emphasized the need for better organization to address the threat of cyber attacks.
“Whether it is offense, whether it is defense, we are working through those issues conceptually,” she told reporters at the Pentagon. “But in the meantime, we’ve got to better organize ourselves to deal with some of the challenges that are on our doorstep.”