Perennially defending itself against cyberattacks, the Pentagon will go on the offensive and unleash its cyber-arsenal against hackers.

With a new strategy, the Defense Department says it “should be able to use cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure and weapons capabilities.”

The report is only the Pentagon’s second cybersecurity strategy since its 2011 document, which barely mentioned offensive cyber-responses to cyberattacks. It alluded to DoD’s cache of cyber weapons and vaguely spoke about cyber-adversaries, but named none. The new action plan defines the Pentagon’s swift and effective responses to illegal network access, theft, and other illegal online activities.

New Approach
The new strategy calls for bolstered defense of DoD’s information network and mission-critical data, including the build-out of the Joint Information Environment (JIE), and for capabilities that prepare the military to defend U.S. interests if threatened or attacked, notes Amber Corrin of C4ISRnet.

Until now, most American cyberattacks on adversaries have been covert operations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters last week that DoD’s new strategy is “more clear and more specific about everything, including (U.S.) offense.”

“We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know”
For the first time, the strategy calls out potential bad actors regarding cyber-espionage – specifically China. However, the document calls for more mediation and greater transparency to “reduce the risks of misperception and miscalculation.”

Carter revealed that the Pentagon uncovered a breach by Russian hackers into an unclassified defense computer network earlier this year. While officials identified and mitigated the attack within 24 hours, Carter admitted to the Pentagon’s obsolete technologies, saying the attack exploited “an old vulnerability in one of our legacy networks that hadn’t been patched.”

At Stanford University, Carter said the breach response to the Russian attack shows the department is moving in the right direction, but he added: “I still worry about what we don’t know. Because this was only one attack.”

A Senate Armed Services Committee report last year said that hackers “associated with the Chinese government” got inside the military’s Transportation Command computers at least 20 times in a single year. But there could have been more attacks authorities just don’t know about, and officials fear that future damage could be worse, such as shutting down crucial systems.

The strategy includes a small section on U.S. concerns about continued cyber-espionage by China against U.S. companies and agencies. It says the U.S. will continue to try to work with Beijing to bring greater understanding and transparency of each nation’s cyber missions to “reduce the risks of misperception and miscalculation.”

Silicon Touch
Carter’s trip to Silicon Valley last week also underscored the need for a stronger partnership with the private sector to provide guidance on cyber threats.

Corrin says “that includes the launch of a U.S. Digital Service corps comprising tech pros that will target major DoD IT issues, starting with interoperability of electronic records between DoD and the Veterans Administration.”

Initiated in 2013 to launch formal training, the Defense’s Cyber Mission Force (CMF) will eventually feature more than 6,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel.

The Pentagon would love to pluck some of the tech talent in southern California, but it has to compete against companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple.

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MeriTalk Staff