U.S. Military Expanding Arsenal of Cyber-Warfare Capabilities

The U.S. government is beefing up its cyber-capabilities in order to fight a cyber-war against adversaries, according to several policy documents.

The federal government is increasingly using cyber-tactics to defend its IT assets against attackers and to protect its interests. It's about time, since enemies are already relying on an extensive arsenal of cyber-weapons, experts said.

President Obama has signed executive orders outlining how far the United States military can go when launching cyber-attacks and other cyber-operations against enemies and as part of routine espionage activities, the Associated Press reported June 22.

The orders, which were signed more than a month ago and cap a two-year Pentagon effort to draft rules for the U.S. military, detail when the military needs to seek presidential approval for a specific cyber-assault and how the Department of Defense will integrate cyber-capabilities into military strategy, defense officials said.

The strategy document outlines some of the approved activities, such as planting a computer virus on adversaries' computers to launching attacks that bring down a target electrical grid or defense network. When under attack, the United States can defend itself by blocking cyber-intrusions and taking down servers in another country. And similar to a missile attack, the military can pursue attackers across national boundaries, the AP reported.

"We must have the capability to defend against the full range of cyber-attacks," Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said. Terror groups will eventually learn how to launch crippling cyber-attacks, so the United States needs to be more aggressive in offensive and defensive countermeasures, he said.

Many of the attacks on American businesses, critical infrastructure and defense systems are a "direct challenge" to our military superiority, Charles Dodd, a government consultant for cyber-defense and an adviser to the House of Representatives Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, Science and Technology, told eWEEK. State-sponsored attacks are going after military secrets without any fear of retaliation, he said.

Cyber-attacks aren't always "money-making," but often a military tool, according to Dodd, noting that China built its networks with a tactical mindset. "It's only a matter of time before the attackers take any of this to the next level," Dodd said, noting that cyber-attacks are expected to escalate into much more serious threats.

The Department of Defense and other federal agencies are preparing to meet the threat. In the "International Strategy for Cyber-Space" policy document released mid-May, the White House said the United States would respond to "hostile acts in cyberspace" in the same manner as any other threat against the country.