Cyber Warfare a Major Challenge, Deputy Secretary Says
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2008 Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England today was the latest in a series of government officials to express concern about the United States’ cyberspace vulnerabilities.
“Cyber warfare is already here,” said England. “It’s one of our major challenges.”
Describing the new battlefront, the deputy secretary said, “I think cyber attacks are probably analogous to the first time, way back when people had bows and arrows and spears, and somebody showed up with gunpowder and everybody said, ‘Wow. What was that?’”
England, speaking to an audience gathered here for a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference, noted that President Bush addressed the threat by establishing a task force to coordinate U.S. government efforts to safeguard computers against cyber attacks.
In addition, the United States and other NATO allies are expected to address the issue of cyber defense when the 20th NATO summit convenes in Bucharest, Romania, in early April.
Estonia, a NATO member, was victimized by a series of data-flooding attacks April 26 to May 18 that brought down the Web sites of several daily newspapers and forced Estonia’s largest bank to shut down its online banking network.
“Estonia happens to be very advanced, in terms of networks in their country,” England said. “So a strength was turned into a vulnerability.”
The deputy defense secretary is the latest in a series of government officials who recently expressed concern about the United States’ cyber vulnerabilities. Last week, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official today told a Senate committee that cyber threats are contributing to the “unusually complex” security environment the United States faces.
“A global military trend of concern is … the sophisticated ability of select nations and non-state groups to exploit and perhaps target for attack our computer networks,” Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 27.
Joining the Pentagon’s top intelligence official at the hearing on current and future threats facing the United States was the director of national intelligence, retired Navy Vice Adm. John M. “Mike” McConnell. Asked by senators about cyber threats, McConnell said, “We're not prepared to deal with it.”
“The United States information infrastructure, including telecommunications and computer networks and systems, and most importantly the data that reside on these systems is critical to virtually every aspect of our modern life,” he continued. “Threats to our intelligence infrastructure are an important focus of this community.”
McConnell said China, Russia and possibly other nation-states have been assessed as being capable of collecting or exploiting data held on U.S. information systems.
“The threat that also concerns us a great deal, and maybe even more so, is if someone has the ability to enter information in systems, they can destroy data,” he added. “And the destroying data could be something like money supply, electric power distribution, transportation sequencing and that sort of thing.”
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill last week, Michael G. Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, appeared before the Strategic Force Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 27.
“In the area of cyberspace, both nation states and non-state actors continued to seek ways and means to counter the advantages we obtain from our use of information and to turn those same advantages against us in both conventional and unconventional ways,” he said.
Vickers said the Defense Department is working closely with interagency partners to scope future missions, address the partners’ respective roles and to determine how best to face potential adversaries’ attempts to counter our information advantages.
“We are making progress,” he said, “but much remains to be done.”