The U.S. Department of Defense has revealed that it is now spending $30 million to set up offensive Cyber War operations in the army and air force. Two-thirds of the money is being spent by the air force, which has traditionally taken the lead in Cyber War matters. The money is being spent mainly to buy hardware for the hackers, as well as software tools.
Offensive Cyber War involves a lot more than just trying to hack your way into specific enemy computers and networks. First you have to find out what you are up against. This begins with mapping where everything on enemy networks is. China was noted doing this back in 2005, and the mapping they were doing was a prerequisite to a major attack on non-Chinese systems that is still underway.
After the initial mapping you select the best targets. This is done by determining which systems yield the best impact (which ones have the most valuable information and/or are the most vulnerable). Then you go in and collect more information on specific attacks on military targets. After that you carry out the attacks.
The mapping is part of a military operation and the Chinese know that. You have to assume they will respond to the mapping, which is why the mapping is a constant process. Mapping is also done by professional Internet criminals in preparation for their more mercenary attacks (Internet fraud). Over the last decade Internet fraud has been largely taken over by highly disciplined gangs, rather than a lot of individual hackers. The gangs are well organized and have the resources to carry out extensive mapping operations. Thus many periods of heavy mapping activity is usually a prelude to major Internet based heists. Even government and military sites are valuable targets for the Internet hacking gangs because valuable information can be sold on the black market. Governments have been known to hire the gangs for specific jobs or simply let it be known on the black market (for data stolen by hackers) that certain types of data held by some governments will fetch a particularly high price.
The most valuable information in Cyber War offensive operations is data from enemy hackers. Stealing their tools and data (especially mapping and target selection data) is the most valuable prize of all. A lot of it is kept off line to prevent that, but one function of mapping is to discover where someone may have screwed up and left some valuable information available via the Internet.
Offensive Cyber War is a full time process, even when your people are not actually trying to hack their way into an enemy site. The Department of Defense announcement of the $30 million budget was largely to build public support for these operations and ensure that the money will keep coming.