America already is in a cyber war, analyst says

Former CIA official cites 37,000 reported breaches of government and private systems in fiscal 2007.

A technology expert said Tuesday that the United States is in the midst of an active cyber war and is now implementing still-secret security plans for protection.

Andrew Palowitch, a former CIA official who is now an industry consultant to the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, peeled back a gauzy layer over the secret national cyber-security initiative that will be a blueprint for protection.

"We are currently in a cyber war and war is going on today," Palowitch said in a talk at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies. He credited Gen. James (Hoss) Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with that assessment but said he agrees with it.

"America is under widespread attack in cyberspace," Palowitch said in citing Cartwright's statistics that there were 37,000 reported breaches of government and private systems in fiscal 2007. There were nearly 13,000 direct assaults on federal agencies then, and 80,000 attempted computer network attacks on Defense Department systems, he added.

Some of those assaults "reduced the U.S., military operational capabilities," Palowitch said. He never discussed who the enemy might be.

Palowitch spoke only in non-classified, general terms about the cyber-security initiative, a program conceived to protect government and private networks from cyber attacks. The program is slowly being implemented, he said, but its specific details may remain secret.

Responsibility for the initiative will rest with the Defense and Homeland Security departments. As part of the initiative, a U.S. Air Force cyber command was established in September. On Nov. 6, Homeland Security's cyber division received $115 million in reallocated funds.

And this month the White House Office of Management and Budget directed all agencies to reduce their total external connections so there is no more than 50 "trusted" Internet connections. Currently there are 1,300 avenues in all federal agencies for possible cyber terrorists.

As the cyber war continues, Palowitch said, a whole range of issues will have to be addressed, including legal, civil rights, policy and liability.

Besides being a defense consultant, Palowitch is the chief technology officer for Science Applications International Corp., a major designer of devices to protect computers and networks from attack.