Posted: April 5, 2017 11:40 AM

U.S. Remains ‘Broadly Reactive’ to Cyber Threats

By WILLIAM MATTHEWS, Seapower Special Correspondent

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The four U.S. adversaries on which the nation is focusing its attention are being “thoughtful” and “purposeful” in their approach to developing cyber campaigns aimed at the United States, the commander of the U.S. Cyber Mission Force said April 4.

Rear Adm. Timothy White, appearing on the “Cyper Operations in Sea Services” panel, also said, “One of the things that I’m interested in engaging with the audience today would be understanding how we move our posture as a nation from being broadly reactive to something where we are doing things as a result of our own campaign and our own planning efforts.”

Of our adversaries, he said, “We’ve organized our forces to focus on the four of the four plus one. That is commonly understood to be those things the DoD [Department of Defense] is organizing itself against. In my case that would always be the ability of a state actor to generate cyber power as an instrument of power counter to U.S. interests. So my attentions are squarely focused on Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.”

He noted that “they have as much access to the commercial sector and technology as we do. … My sense of what nations are doing in this space is it's more coordinated, it’s more interoperable, from their perspective, and it’s more structure and it's more integrated. They are building what I would call campaigns, and they are being very thoughtful about it, they are purposeful in their approach, and there is some design that they are organizing themselves to do and I think that they are on the field in this space and we are figuring out how to get on that field.”

When asked to elaborate on the four threatening campaigns, White declined to describe the adversaries’ cyber capabilities or intentions. But he said the threat is persistent and is aimed not just at the U.S. military, but also at the U.S. government and the commercial sector.

Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare and naval intelligence chief, agreed that “deliberate campaigns are being carried out” against the United States, and added that U.S. cyber defenders may not be able to see the whole of the campaigns. 

White commands a joint Cyber Mission Force and oversees 39 teams that operate in three “structured presentations,” he said, “a protection team, a support team and a mission team.”

The teams have three missions: to defend military networks, support military commanders and, when asked, to defend U.S. critical infrastructure.

Against a constant barrage of cyber threats, the Navy appears to be making progress, said Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command. The Navy has advanced from phase one, which focused on plugging cyber gaps and correcting weaknesses, to phase two, which includes discovering and testing technologies that will get ahead of the threat, he said.

But the Navy and Marine Corps have yet to solve the problem of attracting needed cyber personnel. Thus far, they are resisting the notion of non-standard recruiting that has been embraced by the British Navy.

Vice Adm. Jonathan Woodcock, Britain’s Second Sea Lord and navy personnel chief, told a Sea-Air-Space audience April 3 about the Royal Navy’s newest cyber recruits: “We don’t expect them to wear uniforms, we don’t require them to cut their hair. What we need is cyber operators — people who can do cyber warfare. We are refusing to be constrained by the standard requirements for all of the fleet.”

That’s not the U.S. military way. The Marine Corps commandant asked his cyber commander, “Do they have to have purple hair and nose rings?” His answer was “no,” said Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, who heads the Marine Forces Cyber Command.

The Corps still expects Marines, even cyber Marines, to be warriors first, she said.
The Navy, too, is wary of changing standards for cyber Sailors, said Gilday. It could, instead, rely more on civilians for cyber expertise.

“You don’t have to wear the uniform to play the game,” he said.

The Navy could also develop cyber aptitude tests to find sailors who are already in uniform who have the skills and inclination to become cyber troops, he said.

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