USA — New Cyber Chief: People Key in Meeting Cyberspace Challenge

WASHINGTON — Cyber­space will pro­vide “tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ties for the future, but also tremen­dous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties,” the com­man­der of U.S. Cyber Com­mand said today in his first pub­lic appear­ance since assum­ing his new post.

Cit­ing the explo­sion in use of the Inter­net, email, social net­work­ing and instant mes­sag­ing sites, Army Gen. Kei­th B. Alexan­der told the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies here that pro­tect­ing the com­put­er net­works through which they pass is essen­tial to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty.

Cyber­space has become a crit­i­cal enabler for all ele­ments of nation­al and mil­i­tary pow­er, Alexan­der said. “As Pres­i­dent [Barack] Obama’s nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy states, our dig­i­tal infra­struc­ture, there­fore, is a strate­gic nation­al asset and pro­tect­ing it while safe­guard­ing pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties is a nation­al secu­ri­ty pri­or­i­ty,” he said.

America’s wealth and strength make it a par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive tar­get in cyber­space, he told the group.

“And one of the pil­lars of that strength, our mil­i­tary, is at risk to per­haps an even greater degree,” he said, cit­ing the military’s depen­dence on its net­work for every­thing from com­mand and con­trol to com­mu­ni­ca­tions, intel­li­gence, oper­a­tions and logis­tics.

Alexan­der cit­ed the vast­ness of the military’s com­put­er sys­tems: more than 7 mil­lion machines, linked in 15,000 net­works, with 21 satel­lite gate­ways and 20,000 com­mer­cial cir­cuits com­posed of count­less devices and com­po­nents.

Unau­tho­rized users probe these sys­tems 250,000 times an hour and more than 6 mil­lion times a day, he said. And “while our front line defens­es are up to this chal­lenge,” Alexan­der expressed con­cern about threats to net­work secu­ri­ty from a grow­ing array of for­eign actors, ter­ror­ists, crim­i­nal groups and indi­vid­ual hack­ers.

“Our data must be pro­tect­ed,” he told the CSIS group. “We have an enor­mous chal­lenge ahead of us as a nation, as a depart­ment and as a com­mand.”

In the upcom­ing months, Cyber Com­mand will go to work on a more com­pre­hen­sive depart­ment-wide approach to cyber­space, and it also will take on the task of cen­tral­iz­ing the com­mand, he said.

Alexan­der said he also will aim to improve part­ner­ships with oth­er U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Ulti­mate­ly, clear rules of engage­ment – agreed to by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty — are need­ed to estab­lish laws and respon­si­bil­i­ties for oper­at­ing in cyber­space. “That will go a long way” toward deter­ring mali­cious actors in cyber­space, he said.

Alexan­der cit­ed the peo­ple of Cyber Com­mand and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency as key in meet­ing the cyber chal­lenge, empha­siz­ing the impor­tance of recruit­ing, train­ing and retain­ing the best tal­ent to oper­ate effec­tive­ly in cyber­space.

“Cyber­space is among the most impor­tant cur­rent and future chal­lenges the DoD and our nation faces,” he said. “It is a priv­i­lege and an hon­or to be part of our cyber team.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)