OMAHA, Nebraska – Members of the military’s new Cyber Command insist that they’ve got no interest in taking over civilian Internet security –
or even in becoming the Pentagon’s primary information protectors. But
the push to intertwine military and civilian network defenses is gaining
momentum, nevertheless. At a gathering this week of top cybersecurity
officials and defense contractors, the Pentagon’s number two floated the
idea that the Defense Department might start a protective program for
civilian networks, based on a deeply controversial effort to keep
hackers out of the government’s pipes.
U.S. Cyber Command (“CYBERCOM“) officially became operational this week, after years
of preparation. But observers inside the military and out still
aren’t quite sure what the command is supposed to do: protect the
Pentagon’s networks, strike enemies with logic bombs, seal up civilian
vulnerabilities, or some combination of all three.
To one senior CYBERCOM official, the answer is pretty simple: nothing new. Smaller military units within U.S. Strategic Command coordinated
and set policies for the armed forces’ far-flung teams of network
operators and defenders. Those coordinators and policy-makers have now
been subsumed into CYBERCOM. They’ll still do the same thing as before,
only more efficiently. “Doesn’t expand any authorities. It doesn’t have
any new missions,” the official told Danger Room. “It really doesn’t add
any significant funding… And really, it’s not a significant increase in
personnel; we just reorganized the personnel have we had in a smarter
and more effective way.”
That may soon change, however. A 356-page classified plan outlining CYBERCOM’s rise is being put into action. A team of about 560 troops,
headquartered at Ft. Meade, Maryland, will eventually grow to 1093. Each
of the four armed services are assembling their own cyber units out of
former communications specialists, system administrators, network
defenders, and military hackers. Those units – Marine Forces Cyber
Command, the 24th Air Force, the 10th Fleet, and Army Forces Cyber
Command – are then supposed to supply some of their troops to CYBERCOM
as needed. It’s similar to how the Army and Marines provide Central
Command with combat forces to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Inside the military, there’s a sense that CYBERCOM may take on a
momentum of its own, its missions growing more and more diverse.
Most importantly, perhaps, procedures are now being worked out for CYBERCOM to help the Department of Homeland Security defend government
and civilian networks, much like the military contributed to disaster
recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico oil
In those incidents, it took days, even weeks for the military to fully swing into action. In the event of an information attack, those
timelines could be drastically collapsed. “There’s probably gonna be a
very temporal element to it. It’s gonna need to be pretty quick,” the
CYBERCOM official said.
Exactly what kind of event might trigger CYBERCOM’s involvement isn’t clear. “From our perspective the threshold is really easy: it’s when we
get a request from DHS,” the official noted. “What’s their threshold? I
couldn’t tell you what their threshold is.”
The Pentagon might not even wait for an information disaster to move in. The National Security Agency is developing threat-monitoring systems
for government networks dubbed Einstein 2 and Einstein 3. Deputy
Secretary of Defense William Lynn believes those
programs ought to extended to cover key private networks, as ....
“We are already using our technical capabilities… to protect governm...,”
Lynn announced at the Strategic Command Cyber Symposium here. “We need
to think imaginatively about how this technology can also help secure a
space on the Internet for critical government and commercial
Einstein 2 is supposed to inspect data for threat signatures as it enters federal networks. Einstein 3
goes even further — alerting
DHS and the NSA before the attacks hit. “You’re starting to
anticipate intrusions, anticipate threat signatures, and try and
preventing things from getting to the firewalls rather than just
stopping at the firewalls,” Lynn told Danger Room after his Cyber
Symposium speech. (Full disclosure: I ran a panel at the event,
and the military paid my travel costs.)
Given the NSA’s history of domestic surveillance, civil liberties groups fear that the Einstein
become a new way to snoop on average Americans’ communications.
Lynn said not to worry: “Individual users who do not want to enroll
could stay in the ‘wild, wild west’ of the unprotected internet.”
“I think it’s gonna have to be voluntary,” he added. “People could opt into protection – or choose to stay out. Individual users may well
choose to stay out. But in terms of protecting the nation’s security,
it’s not the individual users [that matter most]. I mean, they have to
worry about their individual [data], their credit rating, and all that.
But it’s the vulnerability of certain critical infrastructure – power,
transportation, finance. This starts to give you an angle at doing
Privacy rights organizations and military insiders also wonder whether CYBERCOM is just another way to extend the NSA’s reach. After
all, both organizations are headquartered at Ft. Meade. And both
are headed by Gen. Keith Alexander.
The CYBERCOM official swears that won’t happen. “It’s not NSA taking over military cyber,” he said. “And it’s not military cyber taking over NSA.”
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