EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

Cyber Command is crucial step toward protecting military network

The premise for — and the promise of — dedicated military cyber defense reached a crucial milestone in late June when Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued an order that establishes the new Cyber Command.

Although the decision was widely anticipated — and some believe long overdue — it nevertheless heralded a historic transition in the evolution of U.S. military services. It also speaks to our reliance on digital networks and the severity of the threats that routinely emanate from cyberspace.

On the surface, the secretary’s two-and-a-half page memo to senior Defense Department officials reads like a typical reorganization notice rather than the initiation of a new military era. In the memo, Gates directs the commander of Strategic Command to establish a new subordinate, unified command for military cyberspace operations, to be commanded by the director of the National Security Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander. The command needs to reach initial operating capability by October and begin developing a new military strategy for cybersecurity.

The memo also calls for dissolving the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations and Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare, which coordinate many cyber functions, and requires military departments to support the Cyber Command.

The changes reflect the desire of the military and Obama administration to centralize cyber operations and elevate computer network security as a national security issue. But the memo also recognizes what many DOD officials have long realized: Cyberspace is an operating domain equal in scope to air, sea, land and space — and one that requires specialized technical capabilities.

The new, centralized Cyber Command is expected to strengthen military cybersecurity in several ways. For one, greater coordination — between security experts who specialize in breaking into networks to find vulnerabilities and those who defend the networks — should lead to a more agile and better-prepared cybersecurity team. It should also accelerate efforts to improve interoperability, information sharing and the ability to respond rapidly to cyber assaults.

Another hope is that it will open new career opportunities for people with highly developed cybersecurity skills, giving them a path for promotion that doesn't force them to abandon those skills. Likewise, officials hope the new command will help attract new talent into the military fold.

DOD must still work out many details, including the need to clarify responsibilities, duties and skills. But the new Cyber Command represents a crucial — and welcome — step forward in the nation’s efforts to protect vital military networks and combat the threat of cyber warfare.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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