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11/4/2010
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U.S. Cyber Command Opens Doors

The military command in charge of defending Department of Defense networks against cyber attacks is fully operational, about a month later than expected.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

A month later than expected, the military command in charge of the U.S. effort against cyber warfare has achieved full operational capability, according to the Department of Defense (DoD).

The U.S. Cyber Command, led by Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, is meant to protect DoD networks against cyber attacks and is in charge of all federal cyber-warfare activities. It's based in Ft. Meade, Md., where the National Security Agency (NSA) -- which Alexander also directs -- is also headquartered.

To become fully operational required the command to achieve some "critical tasks," according to the DoD. They included establishing a joint operations center and merging hundreds of personnel and duties from two existing organizations -- the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations and the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare.

Now that the Cyber Command is fully up and running, the DoD plans to expand it by adding workforce, agency support, and capabilities as its mission and needs evolve, according to the DoD.

Under Alexander's lead, the Cyber Command will work closely with the NSA and other agencies -- including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- on cyber warfare activities.

Last month the DoD and DHS signed a pact to collaborate more closely on cyber-related issues in an effort to formally merge civilian and military cybersecurity efforts. Previously, the two agencies worked together more on a case-by-case basis without specific structure.

Alexander has publicly spoken numerous times about the threat to DoD networks from cyber attacks. At the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington in September, he said there are 250,000 probes trying to find their way into DoD networks every hour, and cyber attacks on federal agencies have increased 150% since 2008.

Despite this rhetoric, a recent report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission conflicts with the threat Alexander and other U.S. officials have presented. According to published reports, the commission found that malicious cyber activity is actually on the decline in 2010, with 30,000 incidents in the first half of the year compared to 71,000 in the same time period last year.

Even if the threat is waning, preparing the U.S. military for cyber warfare remains a priority for the Obama administration, and the U.S. Cyber Command is its first line of defense.

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