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Cyber Defense: Investing in the Modern Battlefield


A look at the companies helping the military fend off an invisible enemy.


Last night on 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft took a look at Stuxnet, the computer worm, first discovered in 2010, that attacked Iran's nuclear program.

While Stuxnet was created (ostensibly by a government intelligence agency) specifically to cripple Iranian nuclear ambitions, the source code is now in the public domain.

Could Stuxnet be reprogrammed to bring down critical components of US infrastructure?

It's certainly something that has been on the military's collective mind for some time.

"There is a huge future threat and there is a considerable current threat [from cyber attacks]," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in November 2010 at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council. "That's just a reality we all face."

"The Internet, the cyber arena… this is a vastly growing area of information that can be used and abused in a number of ways… I've often said that I think the potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber attack," CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on February 10, 2011.

Thus, it likely came as little surprise when, at the 2011 RSA Conference -- a yearly expo hosted by RSA Security, a division of the EMC Corporation (EMC) -- Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III said the DoD now recognizes cyberspace as "a new and official warfare domain," joining the ranks of air, land, sea, and space.

Secretary Lynn maintains that "The threat is moving up a ladder of escalation, from exploitation to disruption to destruction," and is fully aware that "a couple dozen talented programmers wearing flip-flops and drinking Red Bull can do a lot of damage," and that "we have to assume that if they have the means to strike, they will do so."

To counteract cyber attacks on military, infrastructure, and vital economic targets (which can be funded "for the cost of replacing a tank tread"), the United States Cyber Command -- a sub-unified command under the US Strategic Command -- was created and reached "initial operational capability" last May.

The Command's mission statement is spelled out along the inner ring of the logo: 9ec4c12949a4f31474f299058ce2b22a

The 32-character code is an MD5 "hash" or "message-digest" which, when translated, means:

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.

Some believe the threat is being overstated.

"There's quite a lot in it, but they're also extensively hyped," says Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics on the warnings on cyber warfare. "In terms of the involvement of the big military companies, you have to realize that they are finding it extremely difficult to sell big, heavy equipment of the sort they are used to because the type of wars that we're involved in tend to be against insurgents. And so they are desperately looking for new product areas -- and the obvious product area, they think, is cyber warfare -- I'm not so sure about that."

Yes, the type of wars that we're involved in now and for the foreseeable future, do tend to involve insurgents against whom we fight asymmetrically. This obviously requires less of the traditional weaponry and more of what is now being developed to protect the country.

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