November 8, 2006—The Air Force has decided to form a new major command—equal to Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command—devoted to protection and use of cyberspace. In the words of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, the new command would preserve “freedom of access and commerce” within cyberspace.
The genesis for the new command springs from a cyberspace task force the Air Force formed early this year, but leading its formation will be historical 8th Air Force, which has been charged with the information operations mission since 2000. Wynne called 8th Air Force’s 67th Network Warfare Wing the “center of mass for this startup activity.”
Talking with reporters in Washington last week following Wynne’s announcement, Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, the head of 8th Air Force, said, “Our enemies are already attacking US networks in cyberspace and we are working to deny them this capability.”
The Air Force is developing ways to restrict enemy access to networks and “disrupt their ability to command and control, sense our presence, or conduct their warfighting operation,” Elder said. He asserted that the cyberspace command would be a warfighting command that would attack enemy networks in addition to securing US capabilities. Elder said the new command would offer capabilities that haven’t even been invented.
Elder compared securing cyberspace networks to securing Balad AB, Iraq. “There is a fence all around Balad Air Base and what we’re trying to do is prevent bad guys from getting into the base by restricting entry” to those with proper credentials, Elder explained. The same applies to DOD efforts to secure cyberspace networks. Once someone is inside, the checks won’t stop. Elder said, “We’re constantly on the look to see if you have the access badge to allow you to remain in the network.”
The walls built up in the cyberspace network will continue to climb higher to enhance security. Air Force network operations “used to have 132 gateways to the Internet, and we’re working on reducing that to 16,” Elder said. By closing the “gates,” the service can not only protect the network more easily but also use fewer resources doing it, Elder continued.
Cyberspace task force director Lani Kass, on hand with Elder to brief reporters, maintained that the current relatively easy access to these gates allows enemies to use “low-technology skills and low-entry costs to attack us asymmetrically” using a range of methods. The nation’s enemies are essentially “flying” in cyberspace unchallenged, she added.
The US is learning that it must use defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace to defeat the enemy. Up until now, the focus has been on defending US networks, “but we’ve come to realize that there’s a lot of things we can do in the cyberspace domain to enhance security,” Elder remarked. One of those things, he said, would be to “prevent a terrorist from detonating an [improvised explosive device].”
Kass pointed out that before 9/11, terrorists trained on simulators and used e-mail and satellite communications to make plans, all things that were readily available. To defeat these asymmetrical challenges, Kass asserted that the Air Force would not apply old ideas to formation of the new cyberspace command. She said, “There is no place for amateurs.”
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.d
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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