Pentagon Seeks $35 Billion to Beef Up Cybersecurity Over 5 Years

  • Space operations, including offense, would get $14.3 billion
  • Carter discloses cyber operations against Islamic State

The Pentagon is seeking $34.7 billion through 2021 for cybersecurity, in part to beef up offensive military capabilities such as those deployed in newly disclosed operations against Islamic State.

“This is something that’s new in this war, not something you would’ve seen back in the Gulf War” 25 years ago, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday at the Pentagon. He discussed efforts, especially in Syria, to disrupt the terrorist group’s “command and control, to cause them to lose confidence in their networks, to overload their network so that they can’t function.”

QuickTake Cybersecurity

While Carter offered few details on the secret technology being used against Islamic State, previously undisclosed budget documents on the Defense Department’s five-year plan show increasing investments in offensive cyber capabilities as well as strategic deterrence and defensive cybersecurity. The proposed budget would bankroll the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command and its new Cyber Mission Force to assist regional commanders with tools to conduct defensive and offensive operations in their own areas as needed.

Cyberspace Operations

The developments reflect an increased willingness by the U.S. military to publicly embrace offensive cyber operations, an acknowledgment that even some insiders long thought might encourage a virtual arms race of online attacks.

The new plan calls for spending about $28 billion in fiscal 2017 through 2020, up from $22 billion for the same period in last year’s five-year plan.

The biggest slice of the $34.7 billion five-year budget would be $14.3 billion for cyberspace activities, including $2.87 billion for fiscal 2017. That includes offensive operations to disrupt adversaries and defensive military activities in space.

The second-largest category is $10.5 billion over five years for information assurance, which works at protecting the nation’s key infrastructure, such as the power grid, and funds the Pentagon’s cybercrimes center.

The offensive cyber moves against Islamic State complement both land and air operations, some with U.S. allies. It’s distinct from the use of military aircraft or ground sensors to disrupt or eavesdrop, a standard U.S. tactic.

Worldwide “what we are building is an inventory of tools that create capabilities that the combatant commanders can employ,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the news conference alongside Carter.

“You can’t replicate what we’re doing today against ISIL in Iraq and Syria elsewhere in the world. What you can do is leverage the tools that have been developed for this particular operation, for other operations down the road,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Russia, China

In a budget statement last week to the House defense appropriations committee, Dunford outlined cyberthreats posed by top U.S. adversaries.

“We suspect Russia has conducted a range of cyber operations against government, academic and private networks,” Dunford wrote. He said Russia has the capability to “potentially cause considerable damage” throughout the U.S. and Europe “to critical network equipment and national infrastructure.”

Similarly, China’s “use of computer network attacks” against the U.S. or allies “could seriously limit access to cyberspace.” North Korea’s cyber capabilities today “remain modest and pose the greatest threat to poorly defended networks,” Dunford said.

Iran’s current cyber capabilities “present a limited but increasing threat,” he said. But the Islamic Republic “has demonstrated some degree of success targeting vulnerable critical infrastructure networks.”

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