Obama administration said to consider military cybercommand

The goal: protect Defense Department networks, develop cyberwar capabilities

The Obama administration is considering a new military cybercommand for protecting U.S. Department of Defense networks and developing offensive cyberwarfare capabilities, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Plans to launch the new command are expected to be officially announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon, the Journal said, quoting unnamed government and military sources. The cybercommand is expected to be headed by a four-star general and would -- at least, initially -- be part of the Pentagon's Strategic Command.

According to the Journal, the frontrunner to head the new cybercommand is Lt.Gen. Keith Alexander. He is currently the director of the National Security Agency (NSA).

In a keynote speech yesterday at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco, Alexander stressed that the NSA has no interest in running cybersecurity for the U.S. government as some have feared. But he did say the NSA wants to be able to lend technical support to help the Defense Department fulfill its cybersecurity mission.

The move to create a military cybercommand is an apparent response to the growing number of threats directed against critical military networks and systems. Earlier this week, the Journal reported on cybercriminals who had stolen terabytes of data on the Joint Strike Fighter, a $300 billion stealth fighter now under development. Although no classified information appears to have been stolen, information related to the design of the Joint Strike Fighter and its electronics -- data that could be used to help defend against the jet -- appears to have been compromised, the Journal said.

There have also been numerous other reports about foreign cyberspies from countries such as China and Russia breaking into military computers for espionage purposes.

Word of the planned cybercommand comes as the Obama administration prepares to review a report documenting governmentwide cyberpreparedness. The report was prepared by Melissa Hathaway, a former Bush administration aide who was appointed acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security Council as well as the Homeland Security Council in February.

Hathaway was told to conduct a review of ongoing cybersecurity programs and come up with recommendations for ensuring that they are aligned with government and private-sector needs. The 60-day review was completed last week, and the report is expected to be reviewed by the president before any recommendations are made. The announcement of the new cybercommand will likely happen after that, the Journal said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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