IT as a prime target

When does the military respond to an intrusion?

The Israeli military spent the early days of its current conflict with Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon bombing cellular communications towers. In any military action, communications is a high-priority target.

'Anything that would cause disruption in the civilian population or the military environment is fair game,' explained John Stack, enterprise architecture and security solutions manager for Northrop Grumman Information Technology's Defense Group. 'I would say that any time you have an operation against (an adversary), you're going to want to go after the infrastructure.'

Similarly, an enemy of the United States could launch a cyberattack against a communications infrastructure, or initiate an assault on the country's banking and finance centers, transportation hubs, nuclear facilities, electrical grids and even food supply.

If this cyberattack were to happen, would the Defense Department get involved? That decision would be made by the executive branch of the government.

'Anytime something is identified that might impact our ability to accomplish our mission, it becomes a military concern,' said Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight, deputy director of DOD's Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, a component of the Strategic Command. 'We work very hard to make sure we don't have single points of failure.'

'We're just like an infantry unit where we are putting up defenses around our forces in a normal military fashion. We don't philosophize over whether it's an 'attack' or not, because we have a responsibility to defend the network against all events that impact it, whether it is a natural disaster, or an operator error or an actual attack,' she said.

Domestic, simultaneous attacks'not just aimed at people, but buildings and infrastructures'could stifle a military's ability to respond. This, said former Virginia governor James Gilmore III, would be the point.

'If I were an enemy, I would ... attack physically with an explosion or a bio attack and simultaneously disrupt the cybertowers in the U.S.,' said Gilmore, current chair of Kelley Drye Collier Shannon's Homeland Security Practice Group, a Washington law firm.

Gilmore also is chairman of the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness.

'It's perfectly clear that if you can disrupt the Internet or computers in the United States today, you go a long way in disabling our communications and our capacity to do an attack,' Gilmore added.

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