U.S. Cyber Command, a subdivision of U.S. Strategic Command launched last month to help shield the Defense Department against cyberattacks, has a big job in the months ahead. The command has to protect the entirety of the military’s computer systems, which consists of more than 7 million machines, 15,000 networks, 21 satellite gateways and 20,000 commercial circuits. Unauthorized users probe these systems over 6 million times a day. And now Army Gen. Keith Alexander, CyberCom's chief and director of the National Security Agency, has admitted that the command has a long way to go before it can adequately defend against attacks on military networks.
National Defense Magazine reports that CyberCom currently lacks the ability to view the DoD's digital domain in real time—a weakness that prevents the command from preventing attacks before they happen. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Alexander explained: "We are policing after the fact, versus mitigating in real time. We need real-time situational awareness in our networks so if we see something we can take action in real time...Oftentimes our situational awareness is just forensics. Something has happened and we’re responding."
It's easy, in other words, for terrorists and foreign governments to wage war on the DoD's information networks as they currently stand. The next step for CyberCom is to build a "common operating picture" for networks through new technology and coordination between different branches of the military and federal agencies—all while maintaining the privacy rights of citizens and allaying fears of foreign governments that CyberCom could trigger some sort of Internet arms race. Perhaps it's time to dust off our old cyberpunk novels and start mining them for lessons.