US military prepares for 'cyber command:' official
The US administration is planning to create a new military command to counter cyber attacks on the country's sensitive computer networks, a US defense official said on Wednesday.
The move would be part of a planned overhaul of cyber security policies now being weighed by the White House, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The "cyber command" would likely fall under the US Strategic Command, which already leads efforts within the military to safeguard computer networks from hackers and cyber attacks, the official said, confirming media reports.
Plans to reorganize the US government's approach to information technology security come amid a growing threat of cyber spying and attacks, including a breach reportedly of the US electricity grid and of the F-35 fighter jet program.
The cyber security command would likely be led by a three-star military officer, though at one point officials weighed creating a higher level combatant command under a four-star officer, the official said.
"It was considered," he said.
Naming a top-ranking officer for cyber-security efforts will also mean added resources and funds to take on the mission.
"Creating a structure means more resources," the official said.
The results of a 60-day review of cyber security by the White House is due to be released soon, amid speculation President Barack Obama will name a cyber "czar" to oversee IT security.
No single agency is charged with ensuring IT security and lawmakers have called for creating a powerful national cyber security advisor reporting directly to the president.
A Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday it was "premature" to talk about what steps were planned for cyber security.
"There are certainly people looking at various ideas with respect to how we might be better organized to address this," spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
The Defense Department says it spent more than 100 million dollars in the past six months reparing the damage done by cyber attacks.
While government networks are better protected, attacks on private computer networks also pose a potential threat as the military partially relies on commercial IT infrastructure, officials say.
The role of other government agencies in future cyber security efforts remained unclear, particularly the secretive National Security Agency (NSA).
A top US cyber security official in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quit last month, complaining in a resignation letter that government efforts were flawed and dominated by the NSA.
Rod Beckstrom, former director of the National Cyber Security Center, had charged that his office had been effectively sidelined by the NSA and warned of the dangers posed by putting the surveillance agency in charge of cyber security.
But the director of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, reportedly said on Tuesday said his agency did not have ambitions to take charge of IT security.
"We do not want to run cyber security for the US government," Alexander was quoted as saying by US media at a conference in San Francisco.
He said the NSA would provide support to the Department of Homeland Security.
"We want to be here to provide technical support for the DHS so they can do their job. We need to dispel the rumours, it's not NSA and DHS; it's one team," he said.