US Cyber Commander proposes radical changes to combat cybercrime

The cybercrime environment is only “going to get worse,” and so the military and intelligence communities should join forces, says the the U.S. Cyber Commander.

General Keith B. Alexander, leader of U.S. Cyber Command, wants to combine military and intelligence forces to try and combat the global threat of cybercrime.

In an interview with Signal, Alexander says that cyber threats are “only going to get worse.” The general has a swathe of plans to try and not only reorganize the Defense Department cyber community, but also to consolidate and train intelligence and IT teams to operate in the same space.

As networking systems become more advanced and widespread, everything from communications to data storage is now digitized. As these kinds of departments now run on the same thread, they also face the same problems — namely the possibility of network breaches, data loss and theft, as well as the use of malicious code which spies upon government and corporate activity.

The director of the National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command admits that U.S. cybersecurity advancements have not kept the same pace as the evolving nature of cyberattacks. In order to keep up, the general says that different skill sets from networking, communications and data storage have to be combined, and the traditional separation of these fields must be eradicated. If cyberteams are going to catch up to hackers, then the commander believes different military groups that historically have acted independently have to play on the same field.

“They don’t operate in different spaces,” Alexander says. “They operate in the same space. The issue that we’re faced with is, if they operate in the same space, why do we train them as separate teams? Why don’t we train them together at the same standard? What we used to consider separate domains [in which] we used to consider our networks unique and separate, now have become one giant network connected on a global scale.”

Changing existing military culture is likely to be one of the most challenging aspects of the general’s proposals. Staff in each departments are trained to different standards, and communication is often weak. However, if defensive and offensive tools used by separate factions are brought together under one roof and then bolstered by intelligence reports, then operators can be given a full arsenal and the abilities required to carry out cyber-related missions. Each department can engage in some joint defense missions with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), but by combining the groups, less manpower can be used and the efficiency of the taskforce may be improved.

Another key factor is bringing together defensive capabilities of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Currently, the services are all focused on defending their own networks rather than the nation as a whole — a problem which has to be rectified.

“I think we [the United States] are going to be attacked in cyberspace more and more,” Alexander noted. “It’s only going to get worse. The nation needs the Defense Department to be ready to defend this nation in cyberspace.”

Gen. Alexander will be discussing his plans in more detail at his keynote address at the AFCEA International Cyber Symposium, Baltimore, June 25 – 27.

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