U.S. ramps up spending on cyber defenses as virtual war spreads globally

(Cyberwar.news) The Obama administration may finally be getting serious about boosting the nation’s cyber defenses following major hacks of massive government systems including the Office of Personnel Management, likely by China-based cyber warriors.

As reported by CNBC, the conventional U.S. military is still the preeminent superpower in the world, based on its size, capability, reach and intelligence operations. But so far the Pentagon has not done a good job of defending its cyber borders, and at a time when hack attacks are much more frequent and are coming from a growing number of countries.

The problem is, cyber war doesn’t fit neatly into traditional military conflict, so the Defense Department has been slow to adapt strategies to combat and defend cyber probes and theft by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and a host of other countries.

To remedy that problem, the Obama administration is proposing ramping up spending to bolster cyber defenses in the FY 2016 budget to $14 billion, or about 10 percent more than the $12.5 billion budgeted for FY 2015, CBNC.com reported.

“You could basically say the attacker has the advantage,” Martin Libicki, senior management scientist at RAND Corp. and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, told the financial news network.

There have been a series of high-profile and major data breaches of U.S. systems – and not just defense and government personnel systems, but those that control civilian and financial infrastructure as well. The implications of an attacker possessing the capability to shut down local or regional water treatment plants, dams, air traffic control, ground traffic systems and financial institutions are deeply concerning to a growing number of experts.

Russian hackers who targeted the unclassified email server for the Joint Chiefs of Staff carried out one of the most recent defense-related attacks. And like that sophisticated cyber assault, Chinese hackers are believed to be behind the data breach at OPM, in which tens of millions of current and former U.S. employee information – including security clearance forms and background checks – was stolen. The attacks have been difficult to attribute to the respective governments and not individual actors, but some U.S. officials have nonetheless hinted they believe the hacks were state-sponsored, CNBC reported.

In response, sources within the Obama administration told The New York Times the U.S. was planning to retaliate against China.

“One of the conclusions we’ve reached is that we need to be a bit more public about our responses, and one reason is deterrence,” said a senior administration official in an interview with the Times. “We need to disrupt and deter what our adversaries are doing in cyberspace, and that means you need a full range of tools to tailor a response.”

As for U.S. responses, CNBC reported:

Steps the U.S. government has taken to respond to hacking by foreign agents show the tentative nature of its cyber offense. Sanctions have been the primary means of retaliation, and these responses have focused on the government assisting U.S. corporations that have been hacked rather than direct response to government systems’ encroachment.

In response to increased hacking activity, the Pentagon established U.S. Cyber Command in 2009.

“USCYBERCOM plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries,” says the command’s web site.

Follow Cyberwar.news editor Jon E. Dougherty on Twitter and Google+.

See also:

CNBC.com

NYtimes.com

Stratcom.mil