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)