The US Defence Department must be able to operate freely in cyberspace amid dangers of remote sabotage, claims an army general. The potential for sabotage and destruction is “something we must treat very seriously,” said General Keith Alexander following the introduction of the US Cyber Command.
“In short, we face a dangerous combination of known and unknown vulnerabilities, strong adversary capabilities and weak situational awareness,” he told an audience at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group in Washington. Senior aides to US president Barack Obama are weighing such issues as how the laws of warfare apply to a digital attack routed through a neutral country.
“What we don’t have is the precision in those standing rules of engagement, yet, that we need,” Alexander said. He referred to “distributed denial-of-service attacks” that interfered with government functions in Estonia in 2007 and in Georgia in 2008. He pointed out that although information systems were able to resume functioning after the attacks stopped, they show that “the potential for sabotage and destruction is now possible”.
Alexander also heads the Pentagon’s communications-intercepting National Security Agency, or NSA. He said new rules for US military operations in cyberspace were being prepared by the defence department’s policy office, subject to approval by the deputies committee, the highest level interagency body dealing with national security issues.
Defence department systems are probed by unauthorised users roughly 250 000 times an hour, or more than six million times a day, according to Alexander.