- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cyber Command delayed

As threats to Pentagon computer networks from foreign governments, criminal organizations and private hackers continue to grow, the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding up creation of a new Cyber Command.

A spokesman for the U.S. Strategic Command, which will be in charge of the new command, said the committee “has raised a number of detailed questions regarding the department’s plans for U.S. Cybercom, including its [National Security Agency] relationship, and indicated that it would like all answers provided before considering [NSA Director] Lt. Gen. [Keith] Alexander’s nomination.”

Gen. Alexander has been nominated to four-star rank for the new command which will be located at Fort Meade, where NSA currently has its headquarters.

The issue is rekindling a long-simmering dispute within government circles over whether cyber-activities should be intelligence-driven or military-centered.

Former NSA Director Mike McConnell stated recently in an op-ed article that the U.S. currently is fighting a cyberwar and is losing, because as the most wired nation, U.S. networks are the most targeted and cyberdefenses are “woefully lacking.”

DoD officials recently met with committee staff members and “the department is committed to answering any additional questions raised by the committee,” said Lt. Cmdr. Steve Curry, a Stratcom spokesman. “DoD looks forward to establishing this critical command as soon as the Senate confirms Lt. Gen. Alexander as its first commander.”

Cmdr. Curry said that “improving the protection of military information networks in the 21st century is an urgent priority for DoD.”

Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for Committee Chairman Carl Levin, said the panel is awaiting responses on the issue and will schedule a confirmation hearing after the committee’s questions are answered.

Power-grid vulnerability

Security specialists in and out of government are expressing worries about a recently published technical paper by a Chinese researcher revealing how the continental United States could be hit with a cascading failure of the electrical power grid. The security experts fear Chinese cyberwarriors will pick up on the strategic vulnerability.

The paper, “Cascade-based attack vulnerability on the U.S. power grid,” was written by Jian-Wei Wang and Li-Li Rong, and details how a power-grid failure would turn out the lights — and everything else reliant on electricity — throughout the country.

The New York Times on March 20 reported on the paper and interviewed one of its authors, Mr. Wang, who claimed he was innocent of any cyberwarfare motives. The researcher was quoted as claiming his interest was concern for safety and protection of electric grids, and that use of the word “attack” was apparently not meant in the military or cyberwarfare sense.

However, concerns that the U.S. power grid could easily be attacked and disrupted via computer go back over a decade to the Joint Staff military exercise called Eligible Receiver.

The exercise in June 1998 used a group of National Security Agency computer specialists who posed as North Korean hackers and who had as their goal the shutting down of Hawaii’s electrical power grid, and thus the command and control networks, used by the headquarters of the Pacific Command.

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