U.S. unprepared for ongoing cyberwar, say top military and intelligence officials

The United States is in the midst of a cyberwar and is not prepared to deal with it, top Defense Department and intelligence officials acknowledged this week.

"Cyberwarfare is already here…. It's one of our major challenges," said Defense Deputy Secretary Gordon England on Monday at the annual National Community Service and Legislative Conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"I think cyberattacks are probably analogous to the first time, way back when people had bows and arrows and spears," he said. "And somebody showed up with gunpowder and everybody said, 'Wow. What was that?'"

England made his comments the same day that the Pentagon released a report saying that the 2007 cyberattacks against its networks and those operated by other governments around the world "appear" to come from China.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Sen. John Thune, D-S.D., asked National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell if the United States was prepared to deal with threats against military and civil networks and information systems. "We're not prepared to deal with it," said McConnell, identifying both China and Russia as adversaries who are attempting to penetrate U.S. information systems.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed with McConnell and told the panel that a key threat facing this country is the "sophisticated ability of select nations and nonstate groups to exploit and perhaps target for attack our computer networks."

Security experts had warned earlier about the cyberthreats that England and McConnell publicly acknowledged this week. In November 2007, Andrew Palowitch, a former CIA official who is now an industry consultant to the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, declared that the United States was "in the midst of a cyberwar" and said there were 37,000 reported penetrations of government and private systems in fiscal 2007.

McConnell also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the ability of an enemy to enter information into systems and destroy data in financial, power distribution and transportation networks is the other threat that "concerns us a great deal."

According to McConnell, U.S. military systems are better protected than those operated by civilian agencies or in the private sector. "So the question is, how do we take some of the things that we've developed for the military side, [and] scale them across the federal government? And the key question will be, how do we interact with the private sector?"

The military's capability against cyberattacks and network penetration reflects the substantial investment the Defense Information Systems Agency has made in information systems security.

DISA has spent $493.3 million from its operations and maintenance account on information systems security and assurance in 2007 and 2008, including Defensewide secure network access card systems. The agency has asked for $316.6 million in its fiscal 2009 budget. In addition, DISA spent $69.9 million in procurement funds over the past two years, and has asked for an information systems security procurement budget of $45.8 million in 2009.

These funds include support for a Computer Emergency Readiness Team Coordination Center, and computer systems that include firewalls for both classified and unclassified military networks, demilitarized zones to isolate Defense systems from the Internet and "honeypot" systems to lure attackers to fake networks away from real ones.

The Bush administration plans a $6 billion Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative which McConnell testified will beef up network and information systems defenses against cyberattacks. DISA requested $36 million in its fiscal 2009 budget for the initiative.

The White House has released little information about this cybersecurity master plan, but President Bush revealed some details in a Nov. 6, 2007, letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for amendments to his fiscal 2008 budgets related to the Homeland Security and Justice Departments "which will enhance the security of the government's civilian cyber networks and will further address emerging threats."

This request included a $115 million increase in Homeland Security's budget for infrastructure protection and information security, from $538.2 million to $653.2 million, to enhance cybersecurity governmentwide. Bush said the extra money will fund accelerated network monitoring for civil agency networks and increased analytical operations by computer readiness teams.

Bush also asked for an increase of $39 million in the FBI's 2008 budget to support investigation of incursions into government computer networks.

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