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The Pentagon And Cyber Defense, Cyber Warnings

New alarms about the risk of cyber attack as the Pentagon calls for more cyber warriors.

 The Pentagon, seen from Air Force One. (AP)

The Pentagon, seen from Air Force One. (AP)

Heads-up remarks from two of America’s highest-ranking national security figures recently on cyber security.

First came Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, warning that the United States in vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor ” – an Internet attack on infrastructure that could shock and disable the nation.

Then came Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, just last week, saying a “cyber 9.11” could happen “imminently.” Then news that the Pentagon is looking to sharply expand its force of cyber warriors.

This hour, On Point: cyber warnings, cyber force, and cyber security now.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ellen Nakashima, national security reporter for the Washington Post. (@nakashimae)

Herbert Thompson, program chair of the RAS Conference, the world’s biggest information security conference. Senior vice president and chief security strategist at Blue Coat, a web security company based out of Silicon Valley.

James Lewis, senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (@james_a_lewis)

Closing Segment On Chuck Hagel’s Nomination for Secretary of Defense

Maggie Haberman, senior political writer for Politico. (@maggiepolitico)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Washington Post “The Pentagon has approved a major expansion of its cybersecurity force over the next several years, increasing its size more than fivefold to bolster the nation’s ability to defend critical computer systems and conduct offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries, according to U.S. officials.”

Slate “There is one number that matters most in cybersecurity. No, it’s not the amount of money you’ve spent beefing up your information technology systems. And no, it’s not the number of PowerPoint slides needed to describe the sophisticated security measures protecting those systems, or the length of the encryption keys used to encode the data they hold. It’s really much simpler than that. The most important number in cybersecurity is how many people are mad at you.”

Business Insider “Iran responded to a 2010 cyber attack on its nuclear facilities by beefing up its own cyber capabilities, and will be a “force to be reckoned with” in the future, a senior U.S. Air Force official told reporters on Thursday.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Ya know, I get it. There are a lot of people who want to do others harm, and always have been. But my question is; just how many weapons must mankind develop and deploy to end the use of weapons ?
    Isn’t it time the militarist realize the we need to create a method, an institution, a way of mind; that creates extreme health, wealth, and happiness for all of mankind ? The great anti-weapon that will end all war and need and desire for war. To know this truth is to win all wars !

    • harverdphd

       They can’t.

  • arydberg
  • NrthOfTheBorder

    Here we go again.

    Another threat coupled with more requests for money from the Pentagon to contain it.

    Congress will approve everything they ask for.  Then, well-connected contractors will propose “solutions” which then ups the ante for those threatening us: the (name here for the enemy of the day). 

    ‘n ’round it goes. 

    What fools we’ve become.

    First, let’s understand what the BULK of Pentagon spending is:

    - A jobs program
    - An industrial subsidy
    - A feeding trough for big corporations
    - A favor mill for congress quid-pro-quo: campaign donations plz
    - The new American form of “Capitalism”.
    - Replete with slack oversight, lazy attitudes, cost overruns, stunning delays and unfathomable waste.

    We need to insist that countering threats should begin at the bargaining table, joining with our allies, & followed by economic sanctions – with persistence – if need be. 

  • http://twitter.com/kegandolfo Kathleen Fischer

    I wish there were more discussion of bisexuality.  Does a bisexual require two committed relationships to fully experience his or her love.

    • DeJay79

      wrong story thread. oops

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I wonder how much of this is really “national security” – and how much of it is just outsourcing corporate security costs to the federal government?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I wonder how much of this is “national security” -  and how much of it is private corporations outsourcing security costs onto the federal government?

  • http://twitter.com/KseniaL Ksenia

    Did no one see Live Free or Die Hard? I have total faith in Bruce Willis to save us. (Way to be 6 years behind Hollywood on this one Pentagon)

  • http://www.facebook.com/JoeyCorrao Joe Corrao

    a fear expert I love it! always work for you guy.

  • Scott B

    It’s already happening. Groups of nationalistic students are constantly poking around and causing problems with a wink from their government, and government sponsored Iranian groups have gotten into various places and caused problems. 

    Until someone big happens, the US will continue to plod along in complacency like we always have in the past. This is a country where our 100-year-old-plus infrastructure can’t get fixed on whole, and only gets fixed where it caused death.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joan-Marie-Davidson/1031260734 Joan Marie Davidson

      And you know that it was Iran?
      And we “plod along”?
      So where does that military and security money go?

      • Scott B

         Iran recently attacked US banks, and Iran hasn’t been shy about saying what they’re trying to do.  Pick your search engine.

        If there’s a better word than “plod” I don’t know it.  Cold tar moves faster than we do.  Our government is too busy arguing and trying to score points in the beltway while we have roads and internet than can’t keep up with the traffic of vehicles nor information. We have one massive grid where some squirrel that electrocutes itself causes power outages for miles because we have an “It’s been good for 100 years, why change now?” attitude. It took the defense dept how long to start fixing the HumVees that had no armor, because they were armed to fight the wars from the previous wars.
         So, I’ll stick with “plod”. It’s amazing we’re not going backwards, which we might if a cyber attack, or even a major sun spot episode, throws us back into the 18th century.

  • ingledw

    Why does DOD always come up with an “imminent threat” when their budget is being cut? More why do americans bite this religious drivel, that DOD knows the threat, knows how to quell it, and oh, it will only cost a few more billion dollars? Americans love this made for TV hysteria, and will always bite. We’re the country afraid of germs, why not losing our smart phones?

    • harverdphd

       Let’s ask NBC

  • Fran52

    Other western countries must be vulnerable as well.  What steps have they taken?  In terms of preparation and strategy, where do we stand in comparison to our allies?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chad-Underdonk/100000113601839 Chad Underdonk

    I wonder how much of this is in response to the Hacktivist group ANONYMOUS declaring war on the United States Government (not the people).  This could in fact be the dawning of a new form of Cyber-Revolution.

  • Fran52

    Other western countries must be vulnerable as well.  What steps have our allies taken?  In terms of preparation, where do we stand in comparison?  I have heard that it has taken us a long time to face up to this.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=539480799 Elaine Washburn

    You’ve been talking a lot about alleged Iranian cyber attacks, but haven’t once mentioned how Israel, with America’s blessing, infected Iranian nuclear program computers with a lethal virus not long ago.  Could you please address this?  Thanks

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joan-Marie-Davidson/1031260734 Joan Marie Davidson

      Ho ho, I doubt that will be addressed. It’s …toxic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=539480799 Elaine Washburn

     You’ve been talking a lot about alleged Iranian cyber attacks, but
    haven’t once mentioned how Israel, with America’s blessing, infected
    Iranian nuclear program computers with a lethal virus not long ago. 
    Could you please address this?  Thank

  • Fran52

    Other western, allied countries must be vulnerable as well.  What preparations have they made?  In terms of preparation, where do we stand in comparison?  I have heard that we have lagged behind on this issue.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/JPspaceprty Henry Stanley

    I think taking things offline would be a better solution than an internet security crackdown.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joan-Marie-Davidson/1031260734 Joan Marie Davidson

    First of all, how do we know for sure that those little escapades (“attacks”?) were made by Iran? We do NOT.
    Numero dos:
    I agree with a person who wondered why this has come up right now, with the (almost?) certain reduction of the military budget
    I was in Peace Corps in Madagascar through all the hysteria and nonsense regarding YK2 and how that was going to affect all of us everywhere. People in the USA spent money buying everything from portable toilets to foods, water, etc. etc.A friend wrote me to say I should come back to the USA immediately.

    Our innocence in  this  self-propagating CYBER WAR is suspect and/or non-existent, our overall  vulnability questionable

  • DeJay79

    Have we learned nothing from Battlestar Galactica? A fully networked system will only lead to a calamitous end!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joan-Marie-Davidson/1031260734 Joan Marie Davidson

    Hagel, an independent who can THINK? Watch out!
    A man who knows what war is, because he was there?
    How many in the current Senate or House have similar credentials.
    As for the Israel issue, there isn’t a Jewish lobby ?

    • Don_B1

      There actually several “Jewish” lobbies, the most prominent being AIPAC (The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), a strongly right-leaning group, and the Anti-Defamation League, another right-leaning group, as well as lesser-known and less powerful left-leaning groups such as the Israel Policy Forum and Americans for peace Now, etc.

      The right-leaning groups tend to support Israel no matter what it does while the left-leaning groups tend to criticize policies they feel counterproductive, such as the expansion of the settlements.

      Typically there appears to be much wider spread out opinions in Israel that get public discussion in Israel than what the MSM reports here, which leads to the “easy” attacks on Mr. Hagel for entertaining differing views from what seem to be “required” views here, but are respectable in Israel.

  • TomK_in_Boston

    Trying to avoid politics, as more systems are on-line, it’s obvious that cyberwarfare has enormous potential. Reminds me of the William Gibson books that started with “Neuromancer” and introduced the term “the matrix”. Also, as warfare becomes sci-fi, more weapons are on line. Imagine if you could hack into the drones? The “pilot” in AZ with the video game console goes to fire a missile, and nothing happens.

    This is going to be huge.

    • hennorama

      TomK_in_Boston – you’ve probably just forgotten, but UAVs have been hacked numerous times.  Most famously, at least of the publicly known incidents, was in 2009, when “Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones -$26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected.”


      There have also been numerous instances of “drones” being hijacked experimentally, to demonstrate their vulnerabilities.  You can find numerous reports using your favorite search engine.  Here’s one:


      Other than that, UAVs are perfect, and make great plot devices for action movies, TV and video games. ;-)


      • TomK_in_Boston

        hennorama, thanks for the links. I had not forgotten about the captured video feeds in your first link, which nevertheless did not compromise control of the drone. That’s what really fascinates me. Also I remember the case of the drone that the Iranians claimed they hacked and captured. It has never been clear to me exactly what happened, but maybe they got control.

        The ultimate hack would be to take complete control of a weaponized drone and use it against its owners. THAT’S cyberwar right out of sci-fi.

        In “Neuromancer” the “Turing Police” are trying to prevent Case and his fellow hackers from completing their mission to let the machines get smarter. The Turings are hacked to bits in the prop of a drone controlled by the AIs.

        • hennorama

          TomK_in_Boston – YW. The distinction between simply capturing video from a military/intelligence UAV, and gaining control of the UAV is important, as you point out. Still, capturing the video feed gives an opponent the ability to discern the UAV’s location (if it was previously unknown) as well as advance warning as to potential targets.

          Military and intelligence use of UAVs is one thing, but we are seeing increased domestic law enforcement (and other) use of them, which is a grave cause for concern, both from a privacy perspective as well as a “safety of the skies” air traffic perspective. Not to mention that UAVs are getting smaller and smaller, making them nearly undetectable to the public. It’s a difficult issue, and once again, the use of available technology seems to be outpacing legal concerns.

          • TomK_in_Boston

            Agreed on all counts The proliferation of tiny, insect-like drones for surveillance is 1984-ish, and it seems to me that flying the big ones over another country is a classic “act of war”.

            When the “pilot” tries to fire a missile and the drone says “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” the singularity will be here.

  • hennorama

    One major concern is the secretive nature of these NSA and DOD programs.  Oversight is difficult/non-existent.  Interested citizens have no way to determine whether tax money is being spent effectively, or is simply adding to profits of the private companies that will no doubt be hired as consultants and hardware, software and service providers.

    It’s also difficult to assess the true level of the threat, or if there is a true threat, whether anything can be done to effectively prevent attacks.  There is a culture of personnel moving back and forth between the DOD, NSA and private companies.  Oftentimes, a drumbeat of fear is started by the private sector and media pundits, then echoed by government leaders.  Public fear is the goal, leading to acquiesence on funding anything related to these threats, regardless of whether the threats are real or hypothetical.

    Former NSA Director and Navy Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is but one example.  He has bounced forth and back and forth and back between the NSA and private cybersecurity contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he is now an executive VP.

    Are these fears well-founded, or merely a means to publicprivate–>partnership–>profiteering?

    Once a secret system is created, that question becomes unanswerable.

  • hennorama

    This “the bad guys only have to be right once” Bush-ism is yet another echo of the “War On Terror” arguments.  Then there’s the “I hope we don’t have to learn the hard way.”
    One is surprised that the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” argument hasn’t also been made.

    The basic theme is “we need to do whatever it takes” against this not new threat.  This is nothing new at all.  Remember the movie “WarGames” from 1983 starring Matthew Broderick?

    If the DOD and NSA haven’t previously taken this seriously, they’ve been derelict in their duties.  Perhaps we need Benghazi-style Congressional hearings to find out who ISN’T to blame.

  • http://twitter.com/webberj33 John Webber

    Suggestion for future program.  From today’s news:  NRA executive says that new gun laws “have failed in the past and they’ll fail again.”  Why do gun laws fail?

    • TomK_in_Boston

      Because if you don’t want a law, a standard talking point is to say it “fails” if it isn’t 100% effective. It’s like saying we shouldn’t have stop lights because they “fail” when drivers run through them.

  • hennorama

    Did anyone else find Mr. Thompson’s nasal and laconic voice coupled with his frequent use of a rising terminal inflection (making a statement sound like a question) maddening?  I found it difficult to listen to him, and to take him seriously?  (punctuation intentionally ironic)

    He would be well served by working with a voice/public speaking coach, especially if he continues to speak as an expert.

  • harverdphd

     No one can.

  • Dennis DeMolet

    The National Military Intelligence Association http://www.nmia.org has identified this issue as a major concern for every American, every Business, and all of our Government Agencies. Take notice Amercia.

    • stillin

      With no disrespect, everybody is getting worked to death ie. plantation style so they are too busy to notice…trust that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.rollence Eric Rollence

    A great cautionary tale on this subject, the movie: Live Free or Die Hard.  Seriously.  Over the top perhaps, but still, an eye-opening spectacle of what can go wrong.

  • frof

    I can think of a way a cyber attack might build a body count comparable to Pearl Harbour.  Suppose a cyber attack were to change all traffic lights in six cities to green for 10 minutes and then back to normal operation.  It would take a week of once per day changes for the officials to find the problem but by then the hospitals would be full.

    • WRB2

      As technology has become more pervasive the risk of cyber attacks grow.  Sadly there are not the barriers to entry that you have in traditional wars.  Dozens, hundreds, or thousands of your soldiers do not have to die, weapons can be zombied from the net, it’s rather scary.  Much the same as fighting an asymmetrical war against terrorists who are not aligned with a country.  Something new, something we need think about, and plan for as best we can.  How do you defend against an attack with a weapon you have never seen before?  I’m not that smart but I’m glad we have folks in the Air Force, NSA and other places who do.

      • Tyranipocrit

         oh yeah me too because we have so many enemies outside america–but not in the pentagon or the senate or in the boardrooms of corporate america.  quick go buy a gun

  • Tyranipocrit

    What the F.! Stop calling it the “Homeland”–we are not nazi germany, mother russia or China.  You do know that the mere action of calling it “the homeland” implies we have an empire–empiries are not benign, ever, and it is an insidious attempt to implant notions in our heads–which strikes of fascism to me.  All the bullhonky rhetoric about us and them, about america the great and how perfect we are and how those other tyrants and dictatorships of the past were so bad and cruel and frightening and we could never be like that or want to be–when did we become this, when did we accept it–and why did we stop challenging the idea, this rhetoric.  brain dead america.

  • CRB619

    Peak oil folks. As the grid breaks down, they’ll say it’s terrorists.

  • RonShirtz

    Government cyber-security is nothing more than a gambit to justify spying on our online activity and finding excuses to censor or shut down the internet.

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