U.S. Military Girds for Battles in Cyberspace

Officials see need to expand both defensive and offensive capabilities.

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Cyberattacks directed at U.S. bases, including those in war zones like Afghanistan, are a growing source of concern for U.S. military officials, particularly as the frequency of these attacks continues to increase.

While beefing up computer security is a priority, senior U.S. military officials say it is vital that the Pentagon also expand capabilities to conduct offensive cyberattacks.

Getting troops trained for battles in cyberspace is one of the greatest needs within the U.S. military, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, who leads the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for U.S. missile defense systems, the military space program, and nuclear weapons.

Cyberspace "has emerged as a key war-fighting domain and one on which all other war fighting domains depend," said Chilton during closely watched testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. "We remain concerned about growing threats in cyberspace and are pressing changes in the department's fundamental network culture, conduct, and capabilities to address this mission area."

The key cyberattack threats range from what Chilton called "the bored teenager" hacking into systems "all the way up to threats that could be sponsored . . . even by nation-states that could potentially threaten not only our military networks but also our critical national networks."

Chilton said that more needs to be done to bolster the military's defenses against such attacks. "Day in and day out, our focus is on operating and defending our networks." But he warned that the military needs "to start thinking about cyberspace and our utility of it not so much as a convenience but as a military necessity, because every domain, whether it's air, land, or sea, depends on cyberspace" for its operations.

The National Security Agency provides warnings to the U.S. military on possible threats, and the military learns from hackers. "We learn every day through various attempts to penetrate our network, some of which are successful and many, many, many more," he added, that are not.