The road ahead for Cyber Command

With Cyber Command finally getting its first commander — and one with the smarts and expertise of Gen. Keith Alexander — work can begin moving forward in earnest to tackle the tough questions that confront us in the cyber era.

Perhaps one of the most important elements in the defense constructs detailed in the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review is the move to establish the Cyber Command.

Created a year ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Cyber Command in design and intent represents the kind of new approach that many defense experts agree the military must take: namely, to focus on the wars the United States actually is fighting — and will likely fight in the future — rather than the conventional wars of the past.

At one level, the Cyber Command reflects the realization that the battles of the future will increasingly take place not on land, in the air or on the seas but across networks that lie at the heart of our national security. It also reflects the need to better protect the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information moving across the military services’ networks, in addition to buttressing the networks themselves.

That’s why the recent Senate confirmation of National Security Agency/Central Security Service Director Gen. Keith Alexander to take on the additional role of commander of the Cyber Command is especially good news after months of delays on Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, those delays hampered efforts to address a number of critical issues, including the need to:

  • Resolve how best to confront the relentless breaches of military networks and ensure that the services can operate securely even while under attack.
  • Develop a clear doctrine for responding to and fighting a cyber war.
  • Coordinate and capitalize on cyber activities within the Army Forces Cyber Command, the 24th Air Force, the Navy’s 10th Fleet and the Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command.

Alexander and the Cyber Command must deal with the evolving nature of cyberspace and determine how to engage enemies within it. In addition, they need to harden the Defense Department’s 15,000 networks and 7 million devices at 4,000 installations in 88 countries, all being scanned and probed millions of times a day.

Few will disagree with the assessment of James Miller, DOD principal deputy undersecretary for policy, who recently said, “The cyber threat has outpaced our ability to defend against it.”

How can DOD turn the tide? The Cyber Command needs to find an answer. Many believe that DOD cannot gain the upper hand until the military understands how to go on the attack in cyberspace to fully defend its networks. Another remaining question is how and when a cyberattack on the nation’s infrastructure constitutes an act of war.

But at long last, with the Cyber Command finally getting its first commander — and one with the smarts and expertise of Alexander — work can begin moving forward in earnest to tackle these and other tough questions that confront us in the cyber era.

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