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Cyber defenders face changing landscape

Mar. 4, 2014 - 01:10PM   |  
By AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments
General Keith B. Alexander
General Keith Alexander, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command: The U.S. has 'credibility gaps' in dealing with some cyberthreats. (File photo/Colin Kelly)

An ever-shifting array of budgetary constraints, evolving and increasingly sophisticated adversaries, and policies that run behind the technology they’re intended to manage create challenges for U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command, according to their leaders.

Adm. Cecil Haney, STRATCOM commander, and Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of CYBERCOM and director of the National Security Agency outlined their top concerns, challenges and priorities for the coming fiscal year during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 26.

While the recent two-year agreement to prevent another round of sequestration has eased some of the budgetary pressures, uncertainty pervades, the commanders said.

"Against this dynamic and uncertain backdrop, U.S. Strategic Command's mission is to partner with other combatant commands to deter and detect strategic attack against the United States [and] our allies and to defeat those attacks if deterrence fails," Haney said. "This requires increased linkages and synergies at all levels to bring integrated capabilities to bear through synchronized planning, simultaneous execution of plans and coherent strategic communications."

Adequately addressing the next-generation threats that quickly are becoming the status quo requires addressing particular shortcomings, according Alexander.

"I can summarize what is happening by saying that the level and variety of challenges to our nation’s security in cyberspace differs somewhat from what we saw and expected when I arrived at Fort Meade in 2005," Alexander said in his testimony. "We have some key capability gaps in dealing with these increasingly capable threats."

Among those gaps is a landscape that favors adversaries over defenders, as well as deficiencies in cyber forces as well as cyber weapons and systems, Alexander said. Furthermore, the laws and authorities that govern action in cyberspace have not caught up with threats and realities, he noted.

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There is promise, however. Alexander noted that despite last year's sequestration-enforced cuts across the military, CYBERCOM was able to staff and train about a third of required forces. He added that the national conversation that has overshadowed cyber defense policy in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks actually is informing the way forward.

"Many of the issues that we've worked our way through over the [past] five years on the NSA side, working with a [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court], boils down to an understanding of what's going on in cyberspace -- our ability to articulate it, and their understanding of what we're talking about," Alexander said, according to a Defense Department release. "I think we need to step back [and] set a framework for discussion with the American people. This is going to be absolutely important in setting up what we can and cannot do in cyberspace to protect this country."

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