Dempsey says cyberattacks are the new normal

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out the growing threat posed by cyberattacks and how, “when asked,” it will respond to attacks on U.S. networks.

Gen. Martin Dempsey said on June 27 that cyber incidents have steadily increased over the last year, culminating with Shamoon malware attack last August, “the first large-scale destructive cyberattack” that wiped clean the hard drives of 3,000 computers at the Saudi Arabian State Oil Co. The attack is widely believed to have been launched from Iran. Cyber experts such as James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the Saudi attack and others against South Korean banks underscore for Pentagon planners the threat posed by cyberattacks on the nation’s critical infrastructure.

More than 20 nations now have military units dedicated to employing cyber defenses as toxic malware proliferates among hackers.  “This is the new normal in cyberspace,” Gen. Dempsey said during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Strengthening our cyber defenses on military systems is critically important, but it’s not enough in order to defend the nation,” Dempsey warned.

In response, Dempsey said DOD is expanding its capacity to protect military networks.

“When asked,” he continued, “and with interagency partners, [DOD] will defend the nation against cyberattacks.” To do this, Dempsey said the new cyber defense mission is being integrated across the services and about 4,000 new personnel will join the U.S. Cyber Command. Meanwhile, the United States is investing about $23 billion in cybersecurity.

The U.S. cyber force will be divided into three teams, Dempsey explained: a national mission team; a larger team to support battlefield commanders; and the largest team protecting networks that support global military operations.

When asked about recent friction with China over cybersecurity, Dempsey said the primary goal of Chinese hackers who are believed to be backed by the People’s Liberation Army is theft of trade secrets and other intellectual property. Beijing’s view is “that there are no rules of the road in cyber,” Dempsey said. U.S. and Chinese officials will meet next week to begin establishing those rules, he added.

That effort is part of a larger DOD initiative to reportedly update classified rules for cyberwarfare for the first time in seven years.

Peter Singer, director of Brookings’ Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, noted that the cyber initiatives come as DOD is shifting its networks to the cloud. When asked how DOD will prevent the “over-provision of access,” Dempsey said without elaborating, “There are things we can do to reduce our vulnerability.”

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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