DoD constructing offensive, defensive cyber teams

Wednesday - 3/13/2013, 6:13am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Defense Department is creating dozens of teams to protect its computer networks and go after bad guys.

But like so many initiatives, the cuts from sequestration threaten these teams in multiple ways.

DoD's U.S. Cyber Command plans to hire as many as 900 employees over the next few years to create three sets of teams to defend their networks and go on the offensive against attackers.

Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the Cyber Command, said DoD already is developing the tactics, techniques and procedures for how these teams will work.

Gen. Keith Alexander, commander, U.S. Cyber Command

"We are focusing on defending the nation in cyber space. I would like to be clear, this defend the nation team is not a defensive team. This is an offensive team that the DoD would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyber space," Alexander said during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Thirteen of the teams we are creating are for that mission set alone," he said. "We also are creating 27 teams to support the combatant commands and their planning process for offensive cyber capabilities. Then we have a series of teams that would defend our networks in cyber space. Those three sets of teams are the core construct of what we are working on with the services to develop our cyber cadre."

He said the Cyber Command will have one-third of these teams in place by Sept. 30, two-thirds by Sept. 30, 2014, and all of them in place by Sept. 30, 2015.

CR delays recruitment, training

It will take DoD three years to get these teams in place partly because it's difficult to find and train these employees and because of budget reductions.

"The continuing resolution holds us to the FY12 budget, but as you now know, we are standing up all these teams in FY13 and the funding for that is in the FY13 budget so that's about 25 percent of our budget right now is held up," Alexander said. "That's significant."

And it's not just the budget to hire new employees. Alexander said one-third of their workforce are Air Force civilians, who face 22 days of furloughs this year.

"When you think about, here are the folks we are asking to do this tremendous job and we now are going to furlough many of those," he said. "That's the wrong message to send people we want to stay in the military, acting in these career fields."

Gen. Robert Kehler, commander, U.S. Strategic Command

The U.S. Strategic Command is under the same budget pressures as the Cyber Command. Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of StratCom, said his organization would have to furlough about 60 percent of its civilian workforce, who provide intelligence, maintenance and sustainment services.

"They represent the expertise and the experience that we do not have in the uniformed force. In a place like Strategic Command, in a place like Cyber Command, and in a place like the nuclear enterprise where our senior civilians really represent most of the experience that is left in these types of highly-technical, highly-complicated places. Certainly in the space part of our business, we have senior civilians who are in very important parts of the DoD space organizations," he said. "So, my concern with the sequestration begins with the intentional and the unintentional intangible impacts that we might see on our workforce. It's the uncertainty that goes with that, that concerns me the most."

Kehler added the threat of furloughs could impact recruitment and how they retain employees, especially since many take pay cuts to come to government in the first place. He said if they have to take an additional 20 percent reduction, that may force hard-to-find employees to leave or not join at all.

He said the military has been under stress for the last decade, and furloughs and budget problems are just another source of stress on top of it all.

Situational awareness still is lacking

Despite the budget pressures and the time it will take DoD to develop these cyber teams, Alexander expects the ones in place now and who are going to be in place in the short term to have an impact on protecting DoD networks.

Alexander says he's already working with the combatant commanders on how best to set up the command and control processes.

"We have done a lot of work on that and we've ironed out how the joint cyber centers at each combatant command would work with Cyber Command, and how we would push information back and forth, and how we would have operational control and direct support of teams operating in their area," he said. "There is more to do in this area as teams come online."

Beyond developing the expert teams, Alexander said the Cyber Command also needs to improve its situational awareness across DoD networks.

He has talked about this challenge before, but with President Barack Obama signing off on the cyber Executive Order last month and more than 140 attacks against Wall Street, working with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and critical infrastructure providers becomes more imperative.

Alexander said information sharing has to be in real time between industry and DoD, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department.

That's also why Alexander continued his call for comprehensive cyber legislation to both ease information sharing and to include liability protections for industry.

"I think there is broad consensus on liability protections and information sharing, but where it gets challenging is on the need for government regulations," he said. "I think the EO gives us a path forward to address this challenge."

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