By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 24, 2010) -- Building the cyber force is the biggest challenge for the new U.S. Cyber Command, the agency's commander told congress.
The new U.S. Cyber Command, which is charged with protecting Department of Defense computer networks, is now approaching full operational capability at Fort Meade, Md., said Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency Sept. 23 before the House Armed Services Committee.
Now, he said, he concerns himself with generating a work force for the command -- the tech savvy personnel who will help defend the military's networks.
"The biggest challenge we currently face is generating the people we need to do this mission," he said. "I am optimistic we will get the force we need. We are pushing on the services to go faster to bring those forces in. My greatest concern is moving fast enough to provide a capability to defend our networks in time were a crisis to occur. We see that as our No. 1 mission -- be ready."
When developing that force, the general emphasized the importance of single standards for training -- whether servicemembers and personnel are taught at a single school or at multiple schools.
"So that you know, our combatant commanders know, whether they get a Soldier, Marine, Airman, or Sailor, that the person is trained to a standard and can accomplish the mission expected of them," he told lawmakers.
The security threat to DOD networks today involves as many as 250,000 "probes and scans" an hour, the general said. It's those types of threats that the U.S. Cyber Command needs to keep abreast of, he said, to keep networks and the command and control systems that run on them operational.
"Our services and combatant commands depend on a command and control system, a computer system that has the integrity and reliability to operate in combat," he said. "We have the mission to ensure that happens."
When asked by members of the committee what congress can provide to ensure success of U.S. Cyber Command, Alexander said that continued support was important. Also, he said, is authority to conduct its mission. That is, clear policies on what the command is allowed to do, and where they are allowed to do it, both defensively and offensively.
The White House, he said, is leading discussions on what kinds of authorities are going to be needed amongst the various agencies involved in defending the network from threats. That team includes the Defense Department and U.S. Cyber Command.
The general said that the discussions will help determine what authorities exist now, what can now be legally done, and what additional authorities in the law will the U.S. Cyber Command need to ask congress for in the future.
The threat to America's network infrastructure are broad. In the past, it's included exploitation. In such instances, that means theft and misuse of data, Alexander said. That could include intellectual property, classified information, or even bank accounts used to steal money.
"We've seen that go on, and that endures and is perhaps the most significant form of the threat we have today," he said.
But the Internet can also be used as a weapons platform, the general said.
In 2007, for instance, the national networks in the country of Estonia were nearly shut down by distributed denial of service attacks, suspected to be the doing of unhappy Estonians of Russian descent voicing outrage at the removal of a bronze statue of a World War II Soviet soldier.
Disruptive attracts, like the one in Estonia, can be recovered from, the general said. What is more difficult to recover from are destructive attacks -- ones that destroy network infrastructure equipment.
"What concerns me the most is the destructive attacks that are coming," he said. "We are concerned that those will be the next things we see -- those are things that destroy equipment. It is something that breaks the computer or another automated device -- and once broken has to be replaced."
In the warzone, were such equipment to be destroyed, command and control would suffer, he said. "We have to be prepared for that, both from a defensive perspective and to make sure the enemy can't do that to us again."
The general told legislators that that in cyberspace, the threat does not have to be another country, but really any group with an agenda.
"I think there are a number of countries out there that are near peers to us in cyberspace and hence the concern. This is an area that others can have the asymmetric capability and advantage,"' he said. "The non-nation state actors are also a concern. When people create cyber tools, the unintentional distribution of those tools can cause the most problems and we have to be prepared for that."
When asked about the U.S. Cyber Command's ability to defend the network infrastructure of the United States, Alexander said that it was the job of the command to defend only DOD networks and that the agency would need to add additional capability were it to be asked to defend networks beyond those of the Defense Department.