U.S. defense experts said on Jan. 28, 2013 that the Pentagon is moving toward a major expansion of its cybersecurity force to counter increasing attacks on the nation’s computer networks, as well as to expand offensive computer operations on foreign adversaries.
The first cyber-shot fired is under debate. Many cite the first-known example of such operations the distributed denial of services (DDoS) takedowns and hijacking of government and business websites in the country of Georgia in 2008, at the same time as Russian military operations on the ground.
Others believe the true escalation was when the United States hit Iran’s nuclear program with Stuxnet and followed up with Flame. The Washington Post is reporting the White House is “increasing pressure” on those suspected of disclosing the cyber-attack known as “Olympic Games,” which has been used to sabotage the computer systems at Iran’s nuclear facilities. The program became publicly known after it accidentally unleashed Stuxnet across the global Internet.
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. The Pentagon “is constantly looking to recruit, train and retain world class cyberpersonnel,” a defense official said Jan. 27.
“The threat is real and we need to react to it,” said William J. Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary who worked on the Pentagon’s cybersecurity strategy.
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 2012, Leon 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 was concerned that “an aggressor nation” or extremist group could cause a national catastrophe and taking into consideration the increasing assertiveness and technological advances some nation’s adversaries including China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.
Cyber warfare, part 2: What are the cyber-rules of engagement and the targets of attack