Pentagon Unveils Cyberspace Strategy -- the Disruptors

Sen. John McCain's call for the creation of a cyber-security Select Committee has been added to this story.

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Highlighting the scale of the cyber-security challenge facing the U.S., the Department of Defense has unveiled its first strategy for operating in cyberspace, vowing to improve its ability to deal with increasingly sophisticated digital attacks.

"It is critical to strengthen our cyber capabilities to address the cyber-threats we're facing," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in a statement. "I view this as an area in which we're going to confront increasing threats in the future."
The Department of Defense unveiled its first strategy for operating in cyberspace on Thursday.

The strategy calls for the U.S. military to treat cyber-space as an operational domain, similar to land, sea or air, and promises new "operating concepts" to protect defense networks and computers. Other parts of the initiative include partnering with other government departments, agencies and the private sector to develop a comprehensive strategy and building robust relationships with international allies and partners. The Defense Department also promised to build an "exceptional" cyber-workforce.

With 15,000 networks and more than 7 million computing devices, the Department continues to be a target for malicious cyber activity, according to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn. "The cyber threats we face are urgent, sometimes uncertain and potentially devastating as adversaries constantly search for vulnerabilities," he said in a statement.

From Lockheed Martin ( LMT) to Citigroup ( C) and even the CIA, the list of major organizations falling victim to hackers is growing at an alarming rate, fueling worries that government departments and core U.S. infrastructure are at risk.

Speaking during a speech at the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday, Lynn explained that, over the last decade, terabytes of data have been "extracted by foreign intruders" from the corporate networks of defense companies. In a single incident in March, he said, some 24,000 files were taken.

Set against this backdrop, the Defense Department has been ramping up its cyber-security efforts, establishing the U.S. Cyber Command to coordinate day-to-day activities last year and recently strengthening its coordination with the Department of Homeland Security. The Pentagon has also said that it would consider a military response to a major cyber-attack against the U.S.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D., R.I.), co-chair of the congressional cyber-security caucus, welcomed the latest move to boost cyber-security. "This strategy is critical not just for organizing our own defenses, but also for sending a message to our domestic and international partners about our military's stature on the Internet," he said in a statement.

The congressman also called for clarification around some areas of the Pentagon's strategy. "Specifically, what are acceptable red lines for actions in cyberspace and what resources can and will the Defense Department provide to the Department of Homeland Security, private companies, and international partners to enable their own defense?," he asked. "Does data theft or disruption rise to the level of warfare or do we have to see a physical event, such as an attack on our power grid, before we respond militarily?"

The power grid, in particular, is seen as a vulnerable part of America's infrastructure, one which could wreak havoc if successfully attacked.

"Want to shut down Wall Street? You could shut down the power grid," said Chris Hadnagy, author of Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking, during a recent interview with TheStreet.

"All of a sudden, these networks are being exposed to the big, bad world of state-sponsored information warfare and hacktivism," added Tom Parker, director of security consulting services at Securicon, in a recent interview. "The bulk electric system, the power grid, is something that we all rely on -- because of that, it makes us very exposed."

There is clearly growing political will to ensure America's digital security. This week, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) called for the creation of a Select Committee on cyber-security and electronic intelligence leaks to cut through Senate bureaucracy. In a letter sent Wednesday to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), McCain pressed for a temporary committee capable of quickly drafting comprehensive cyber-security legislation.

This, he explained, would remove the need to work through the numerous and "in some cases, competing" committees within the Senate.

The U.S. is not the only country beefing up its cyber-security efforts. Last year the U.K. Government's Strategic Defense and Security Review allocated an additional £650 million ($1.05 billion) to cyber-security, despite cutting traditional military spending.

-- Written by James Rogers in New York.

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