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June 26, 2009: The U.S. has decided to establish a Cyber Command, to protect military and government networks, and assist in the protection of civilian ones as well. Cyber Command will be part of the Department of Defense, as a component of Strategic Command (Stratcom), which was established in 1992 to replace the Strategic Air Command. But Stratcom was also given the job of handling Information War. Technically, that includes defense of the Internet infrastructure. Now Stratcom has that job, with the addition of Cyber Command. The new command will be activated later this year, and begin operations next year.

For years, the Department of Defense battled with the politicians over who should control Cyber War operations, or at least defense against foreign hackers attacking American computer networks. The U.S. president and Congress were under pressure to do something. Last Fall, realizing that it did not have enough support, the U.S. Air Force officially scrapped its planed Cyber Command. They had originally planned to officially begin operating by the end of last year. Instead, many of the personnel, that were going to staff the new command, were sent to the new Nuclear Command. This change was made in response to a growing (over the last few years) problems with the management of air force nuclear weapons.

Despite that, for several years now, the air force has been planning to establish the new Cyber War operation and use it to gain overall control for all Department of Defense Cyber War activities. A lot of that planning work will end up being used by Cyber Command. The air force had long taken the lead in Cyber War operations. But the other services were not keen on the air force running something like Cyber Command. Thus the air force Cyber Command operation was scaled back to being the 24th Air Force. This organization will handle electronic and Internet based warfare.

One thing Cyber Command will need is something the air force was already building; a Cyber Control System. This is a hardware and software system that would enable the Cyber Command to monitor, in real time, the security state of all military Internet activity (or enough of it to be useful). If any of these networks were attacked, the Cyber Control System software would immediately alert Cyber Command, and recommend a course of action. Think of this as a war room for Cyber War. Many people, deluged with TV and movie representations of high tech military command centers, believe such a Cyber War center already exists. It doesn't, and the Cyber Command will have to build it. The Cyber Control System will have to continually evolve, to keep up with advances in computer hardware and software.

The Department of Defense needs better security for seven million PCs and over 15,000 networks, which makes it the largest Internet user on the planet. All the services are scrambling to get their Cyber War defenses strengthened. The other services will continue on their own Cyber War defense building. If nothing else, all this creates a spirit of competition which has made Department of Defense networks, in general, more difficult to hack into.

The government is also concerned about the defense of corporate and government networks. These have been under heavy attacks for over a decade, and much valuable data has been stolen. In addition, there are fears that terrorists, or hostile nations, could gain access to American power plants and other utilities, and do great damage.

The U.S. Air Force also advocated more Cyber War attacks, as a way to cripple the attackers, and make it clear that, if you hack America, there will be consequences. Apparently there has already been some offensive operations, but no one is giving out any details about when, how, and who the target(s) were. It's not yet known how the new Cyber Command will deal with this.

In effect, there are already several operations, similar to a Cyber Control System, out there. But Congress and the president are looking for some huge, expensive, all encompassing and, most importantly, politically reassuring, cyber defense bureaucracy so the politicians can say they have done something about the problem. Until something goes wrong. In which case you blame the ones running the defensive system, and move on. That works. It worked after Pearl Harbor, it worked after September 11, 2001, and it will work again.

It's likely that the public won't know much about how Cyber Command operates. Partly, this makes sense, as Cyber War secrets are necessary to prevent letting the enemy know what they are up against. But the major reason for Cyber Command secrecy is the large number of people from the super-secret NSA (National Security Agency) who will be involved in setting up the operation. The first commander of Cyber Command is expected to be Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA (which has always been run by a general or admiral). The NSA was established after World War II (1952), by combining the existing military operations devoted to cryptography (secret codes for communications) and signals intelligence (eavesdropping on electronic transmissions). For over a decade, the existence of NSA was classified (and described by insiders as "No Such Agency"). Although a "black" (classified) organization, NSA has always been part of the Department of Defense, but still somewhat independent because of its need for very high security. Since last year, NSA was given the job of helping to monitor U.S. government Internet networks, in order to help protect these networks from attacks. NSA had been monitoring the Internet from the beginning, and has taken the lead in Internet based espionage. But the NSA is restricted, by law, to only monitoring foreign communications. The Cyber Command will not have this restriction, since you can't defend domestic Internet infrastructure if you can't monitor it.

 


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