Six cyber-tools have been designated as weapons by the U.S. Air Force to better allow it to secure elusive government funding for its cyber warfare programs.
Lieut.-Gen. John Hyten, vice-commander of Air Force Space Command, told a March 8 conference the new classifications would give the profile of the military’s cyber-operations a much-needed boost as the military toils to address an ever-increasing number of cyber-attacks on the U.S.
“This means that the game-changing capability that cyber is, is going to get more attention and the recognition that it deserves,” Hyten was quoted by Reuters. ”It’s very, very hard to compete for resources. … You have to be able to make that case.”
Hyten did not name or offer details on the six cyber-tools, but said the military is working to better incorporate cyber capabilities with other weapons.
The Air Force has plans to increase its cyber workforce from 6,000 to roughly 7,200 people — and 900 of the new personnel will be members of the military.
Hyten said there is no time for dawdling when it comes cyber-security.
“We have to do this quickly,” he was quoted by Reuters. “We cannot wait. If we just let decades go by, the threat will pass us screaming by.”
A new emphasis has been place on cyber-security in the past six months as a growing number of American corporations and defense contractors are targeted by hackers.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in February in a move to force Congress to pass wide-ranging cyber-security legislation.
Dubbed Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber-Security, the executive order addresses protocol during cyber-threat situations such as an increase in information sharing between the government and private companies and organizations.
A secret legal review earlier this year also confirmed the president has the authority to order either a pre-emptive strike or retaliatory attack against its cyber enemies.
The review was carried out by the government to identify its policy on responding to cyber-attacks or the threat of one, officials involved in the review told The New York Times.
The rules, which have been deemed highly classified, lay out the roles of both the military and intelligence agencies in such situations. It is the job of the military to defend or retaliate while it is up to intelligence agency personnel to perform searches of foreign computer networks for indications an attack is imminent on the U.S. With the president’s authorization, intelligence officials can also attack enemies by infusing them with damaging code — even if no war has been declared.
The officials interviewed by The Times said the Pentagon has launched a new Cyber Command and, as the threat of cyber-attacks continues to grow, so to will the military’s budget for computer network warfare. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the new cyber-policies were governed in part by the nation’s counterterrorism policy — especially on the roles the military and the intelligence agencies will play in the use of cyber-weapons.
The cyber-attack policy, seemingly, has been re-worked out of necessity: the Department of Homeland Security made public earlier this year that an American power station, which it did not name, was crippled for weeks by cyber-attacks.
The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center was also hacked Feb. 3. Although hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack, it proves government sites are vulnerable and could be the target of foreign powers such as China, which has been implicated in the recent attacks against The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal as well as several private companies.