Geeks are the future of warfare

Cyber warfare will require a new type of warrior, says LandWarNet’s opening speaker

Retired Army Reserve Maj. Vincent Viola gave a room packed with most of the 8,000 attendees at LandWarNet 2011 his view of the soldier of tomorrow. “I think the army of the future will be built around a gestalt of geekdom,” said Viola, who served in the 101st Airborne.

Those geeks will be a critical part of the shift to cyber warfare that’s occurring as military forces become more networked. As the opening speaker today after Army CIO Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence, Viola focused on the need for technologists who can extend network capabilities to the edge and use their skills to attack adversaries.

“We’ve got to find geeks who love their country,” said Viola, who became a trader and then chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange after leaving the Army and is now CEO of Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm. “At my company, I’ll gladly trade 10 pull-ups and five minutes on a run for 20 IQ points and heart.”

He contends that battlefields are changing dramatically, with a shift from topography to topology. The focus on networks means that “the Army is going to have to rethink the model of a warrior,” he said.

Those cyber warriors must be measured by different metrics, and managers must understand that in this new world, not everything will work as planned. “In the cyber domain, you must create a push for soldiers to fail — and fail miserably,” said Viola, who founded the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

He cited the aftermath of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as an example of the way warfare has changed. Once the Indian government determined that Pakistan had been involved, it initiated a series of cyberattacks, which were followed by retaliatory cyberattacks by the Pakistanis.

“Twenty years ago, the response would have been missiles and gunfire,” Viola said.

Network specialists will need to plan far into the future to stay ahead of adversaries who come from many sources, including hackers and foreign and domestic foes. There’s a very low barrier to entry for cyber adversaries — they need little more than a computer, he said.

The low cost associated with cyber warfare is also evidenced at the Combating Terrorism Center, which monitors many activities and issues regular reports. Viola said its modest annual budget of $1 million is possible because employees are given the freedom to operate as they see fit.

“We tell them they’re entrepreneurs in the business of protecting our country,” he said.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

Reader Comments

Wed, Sep 14, 2011

As a certified and experienced "cyber-warrior" who has worked for the DoD, it's not about being a geek who loves their country. I love my country (yet think the pledge of allegiance needs to dispose of the words "under god"). It is about the culture of our military (i.e. very anti-geek). We are mostly employed by contractors and not civilians or enlisted personnel. It isn't about loyalty. It is about being paid what you're worth. Simply put, the private sector pays more and the DoD does not foster the type of environment that most of us would prefer.

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 gato Malo Providence, Rhode Island

Base by base, department by department this team needs to work over your security just like a bad guy. After they find the security holes and make everyone feel bad for having such pours security despite all the their topic-appropriate badges and certification it time for this group to move on. Don’t let this team hang around and become friends they need to just do one thing and that is to hack you. This team needs to be free of anyone going after them or getting a general or congressman mad. My 2© cents – gatoMalo_at_uscyberlabs_dot_com

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 Mike Phillips Ft. Hood, Texas

While there will be an increasing need for cyber-warriors, until these folks can take and hold enemy territory, they will only support the larger purpose of the military. I would also trade scores on a physical fitness test for acumen in networks and technology, but I don't think that cyberwar is a low-cost proposition. To be successful in this will require and effort on the level of the JIEDO operation, hopefully with more success that has been seen in that effort.

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 Dr. Mark A. Givens Virginia

Although I agree with Mr. Viola, it will be hard “to find the young geeks who love their country,” as he suggests; instead we need to culture the loyalty from an early age. Young cyber-warriors are more interested in the challenge of solving problems or incurring bragging rights, and not so much as loyalty to country. I feel that in order to find the future cyber-warriors with loyalty to the USA, the United States must put patriotism back in the classroom / learning environment. And this starts with all public, private, and charter schools reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – supported by academia, parents, and government. Dr. Mark A. Givens

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