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Cyberspace: The Final Frontier?

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The wars of the 20th century were fought on nearly all fronts: land, sea, air and, even in the era of high-tech satellites, space.

But the Defense Department is now adding another frontier to the battlefield – cyberspace.

“Information technology provides us with critical advantages in all of our war-fighting domains so we need to protect cyberspace to enable those advantages,” said Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III in an interview on the Pentagon Channel Oct. 14.

The cyber threat is asymmetric, Lynn explained, meaning attackers can disrupt U.S. conventional military operations using relatively limited means.

The solution is for DoD to be more proactive, he added.

“We realized we couldn’t rely on passive defenses and firewalls and software patches, and we’ve developed a more-layered defense,” he said.

Lynn’s remarks come after redoubled efforts on cybersecurity. In May, the U.S. Cyber Command, headed by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, was created. The position was formed in response to a cyber attack on classified military networks by an infected flash drive in 2008.

And just last week, the Pentagon announced a new partnership with the Department of Homeland Security developing a cybersecurity framework between the two agencies.

The agreement is designed to better protect the nation’s critical military and civilian IT networks. The departments will also work together on intelligence gathering and information sharing.

Defending successfully against web-based assaults can be tricky, Lynn said, because “there’s no agreed-on definition of what constitutes a cyber attack.”

“It’s really a range of things that can happen — from exploitation and ex-filtration of data to degradation of networks to destruction of networks or even physical equipment, physical property,” he continued.

The Pentagon’s mission now is to develop methods of successfully defending against all of these myriad threats.

A little noticed aspect of improving security is restructuring the IT acquisition process, Lynn also said. He pointed out the disparity between private innovation–exemplified by the Apple iPhone, which was developed in 24 months—compared to military projects, which take, on average, 81 months to develop.

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