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7/14/2011
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U.S. Military Outlines Cyber Security Strategy

The strategy focuses on bolstering the military's cyber defenses with new technology, new organizations, and new partnerships with the private sector and foreign allies.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The U.S. military could respond to serious cyber attacks, even on private infrastructure, with "a proportional and justified military response," deputy secretary of defense William Lynn said Thursday during the announcement of the Department of Defense's Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace, the U.S. military's first comprehensive blueprint for cybersecurity and cyberwarfare.

In releasing the strategy, officials pointed to a continuing increase in the number and severity of cyber threats. For example, Lynn detailed a March attack in which 24,000 files related to a weapons system being developed for the DOD were stolen from a defense contractor in an attack that the department suspects was the act of a foreign intelligence service. Lynn said that the attack removed sensitive design files, and that the DOD is currently assessing whether it needs to redesign any part of the system as a result of the attack.

"The centrality of information technology to our military operations and our society virtually guarantees that future adversaries will target our dependence on it," Lynn said. "Our assessment is that cyber attacks will be a significant component of any future conflict."

In response, Lynn said, a strategy to prepare for and defend against cyber hostilities is key to the DOD's mission. The DOD's strategy is founded on five pillars: treating cyberspace as an operational domain like land or sea, introducing improved defenses and new operating concepts for DOD networks, working with DHS and the private sector to secure critical infrastructure, working with the international community, and building a stronger cyber workforce and investing in cybersecurity research and development.

The cyber strategy is but one piece of a larger push by the Department of Defense to address cybersecurity, and the key pieces of DOD's strategy can be seen in some of the military's recent actions on cyber as well as its plans for the future.

Last year, for example, DOD created U.S. Cyber Command, a new military unit dedicated to protecting military networks from attack, and the DOD is now working to integrate cyber scenarios into its exercises and training, including the use of cyber red teams during war games. It also deepened its cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, which protects the federal government's civilian networks from attacks.

The international arena is another important part of the DOD's strategy, as the military has ramped up cooperation with key allies like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Lynn called international law in cyberspace "one of the great challenges" of cybersecurity, and said that the United States would pursue international forums to "set up international norms," possibly including treaties.

Lynn highlighted the Defense Industrial Base Cyber Pilot, a voluntary effort in which the DOD is working with a handful of defense contractors and Internet service providers to identify and stop attacks on their networks. While the pilot has only been up and running for a few months, Lynn said that it has already begun stopping intrusions for some of those companies involved. The pilot is scheduled to end later this summer, and DOD will then determine whether and how to expand the program.

In addition, Lynn said, DOD has committed about $500 million to cybersecurity R&D. Among the research Lynn highlighted are efforts to have computers automatically adapt to new threats, and to "keep data encrypted as we perform regular computer operations."

The aim of the strategy, according to Lynn, is not only to prepare the military for emerging cyber threats, but also a bit of a public relations exercise, an effort to address "concerns that cyberspace is at risk of being militarized" and "fundamentally altered by the military's efforts to defend it." That view, Lynn implied, is inaccurate, and he affirmed the military's commitment to an open Internet. "The strategy we are announcing today provides a framework for us to promote our nation's values in this vital civilian space while carrying out our duty to protect the nation," Lynn said.

The DOD strategy took shape over the last several months under the leadership of a number of top DOD and White House officials. In addition to Lynn and Gen. James Cartwright, other key officials Lynn cited in his speech included White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, DOD CIO Teri Takai, DOD cyber policy lead Bob Butler, U.S. Cybercom commander Gen. Keith Alexander, and DOD principal deputy undersecretary for policy Jim Miller.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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