U.S. Military’s Anti-Hacking Force Won’t Be Ready Until 2018

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The Pentagon will miss its own 2016 deadline to create cybersecurity teams to defend critical computer networks from hacking and they won’t be fully operational until 2018, a senior Defense Department official said.

U.S. Cyber Command’s effort to create 133 teams with almost 6,200 military and civilian personnel to defend the nation against significant cyber-attacks has been disrupted by spending constraints known as sequestration, Eric Rosenbach, assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security, told a Senate hearing in Washington Tuesday.

“It put a big hole in the training pipeline for these cybermission forces,” Rosenbach, who also serves as principal cyber-adviser to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. “It really has hurt us in a way that makes me nervous.”

Rosenbach said in written testimony that the teams won’t be “fully manned, trained and equipped” until fiscal year 2018. Along with defending the nation from significant attacks, the teams also will ensure defense networks remain operational and provide the president a menu of “full-spectrum” capabilities in cyberspace, Rosenbach said.

Military and civilian networks in the U.S. are facing increasingly sophisticated and damaging cyber-attacks. More than 100 foreign intelligence agencies “continually attempt to infiltrate DOD networks,” Rosenbach said. “Unfortunately, some incursions –- by both state and non-state entities -– have succeeded.”

Game Changer

A cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment last year, which the U.S. said was carried out by North Korea, crippled thousands of computers and destroyed data. It was an attack that some U.S. officials said was a game changer in terms of impact.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previously said the agency’s cybersecurity force would be integrated with military commands around the world and be able to defend the U.S. in 2016.

Other defense officials have since rolled back the timeframe. U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told senators in March that the majority of the 133 teams would achieve “at least initial operational capability” by the end of 2016.

‘Hard Pressed’

The Pentagon has been “hard pressed” to find qualified personnel, get them needed security clearances, and get them trained and supported across all 133 teams, Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written testimony for a March 19 hearing.

The Pentagon intended to have the teams “manned by 2016,” Defense Department spokeswoman Valerie Henderson said in an e-mail.

“Sequestration put a dent in manning and training, sliding us backwards on the overall schedule a bit -- but the services are now moving as rapidly as possible to recover from the delay,” she said. “Our experience tells us that once fully manned it takes about 1.5 to 2 years to fully train, equip and prepare to employ these forces.”

Teams will be activated on an incremental basis in a prioritized sequence between now and 2018, she said. “It doesn’t all happen at once in 2018 -- it builds to that over time,” she said.

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