Unnamed Department of Defense sources speaking to the Washington Post confirmed that the command has approved the move, geared to both defend against cyber-attackers but also carry out “offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries.”
Details of the plan have yet to be determined, but the personnel will consist of both military and civilian security professionals, looking after government and military networks as well as critical infrastructure like the energy grid, water supply facilities, oil and gas systems, and so on.
The timing for expansion is apropos, as public-sector discussion on cyber-threats continue to ramp up. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, last week warned that a “cyber- 9/11” is a very real possibility.
“We shouldn’t wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world,” Napolitano said, speaking at the Wilson Center think tank. “There are things we can and should be doing right now that, if not prevent, would mitigate the extent of damage.”
She also championed new cybersecurity legislation, “so the government could share information with the private sector to prevent an attack on infrastructure, much of which is privately owned.”
That’s the goal as Senate Democrats push for just that in the form of the Cybersecurity and American Cyber Competitiveness Act of 2013, recommending that a combined public-private information-sharing consensus be built to address the growing volume of threats to national security.
Napolitano’s remarks follow those made by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). The US Secretary of State nominee said during his confirmation hearing that hacking threats are this generation’s nuclear weapons, and noted that he would make it a priority for the State Department to apply diplomacy to the cybersecurity issue. Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned last fall that the US is in danger of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” attack against critical infrastructure
The US Cyber Command is headed up by Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.