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US Creates Military Cyber Command to Defend Computer Networks

The U.S. Defense Department is in the final stages of creating a new military command to defend against attacks on the nation's military computer systems. We report from the Pentagon on plans for U.S. Cyber Command.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn says senior military officers are in the final stages of working out the command's structure and responsibilities, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is evaluating proposals. Experts say the long-planned command is expected to be created soon.

Deputy Secretary Lynn says the need is urgent.

"This is not an emerging threat," said William Lynn. "This is not some future threat. The cyber threat is here today. It is here now."

Lynn says the threat of cyber attacks is an "unprecedented challenge" due to the variety of potential attackers, the speed with which network attacks happen and the impact they can have.

He says the U.S. Defense Department has 15,000 computer networks, seven million computers and other network devices, and more than three million log-ons to its systems each day, making it what he calls a "tempting target" for malicious attacks. He says the systems receive millions of scans and thousands of potentially damaging probes every day.

The deputy secretary says that so far the attacks have not cost any lives by disabling computer systems at a critical moment. But he says they do cost billions of dollars in computer and network security programs every year, and require the attention of some 90,000 Defense Department employees.

One successful attack last year infected thousands of defense department computers and forced procedural changes designed to improve security. Lynn says such an attack could have been devastating.

"There is simply no exaggerating our military dependency on our information networks," he said. "The command and control of our forces, the intelligence and logistics upon which they depend, the weapons technologies we develop and field, they all depend on our computer systems and networks. Indeed, our 21st century military simply can not function without them."

As a result, Lynn says the U.S. military now considers cyberspace an operational domain, just like land, sea, air and outer space. He says officials are working to develop military doctrine and procedures for cyberspace operations and to increase the department's expertise in cyber security. He declined to say what, if any, offensive actions the United States is taking, or might take, in cyberspace, but he did say this:

"One of the reasons we're looking at a Cyber Command is to unify all aspects of cyber defense, so that you don't separate out offense, defense, intelligence, so that all of the various aspects work together," said Lynn.

Lynn emphasized that the creation of Cyber Command will not militarize overall U.S. government efforts to protect American government and private computer systems. That effort will be led by a Cyber Security Coordinator - a new position President Barack Obama says he will soon create at the White House.

The civilian effort will involve several agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and the intelligence services, with help from the Defense Department. Lynn pledged it will not infringe on Americans' civil liberties - a concern some experts have expressed.

The deputy defense secretary says that more than 100 foreign intelligence services have the ability to launch cyber attacks, as do countless criminal organizations and individual hackers. In addition to the successful cyber attack on the U.S. Defense Department last year, Lynn says there were successful attacks on Estonia and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the disabling of key Georgian computer systems during last year's Russian invasion. He says many of the world's cyber attacks come from China, but that it is not possible to determine whether they originate from government entities or malicious individuals.