Maj. Gen. Lord is a groundbreaker
As cyberattacks escalate, Lord has a new role as the Air Force’s chief cyberwarrior
- By Sebastian Sprenger
- Oct 12, 2007
When Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lord leaves the Air Staff at the Pentagon later this month for his new assignment at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La., he will venture into new territory. As the new commander of the services provisional Cyber Command, Lord will be a central figure in preparing the Air Force and to a degree, the entire military for a type of warfare some experts say could redefine the nature of armed conflict.
The Air Force always has been at the forefront of network operations and electronic warfare, but combat in cyberspace as a core mission for the service is relatively new. Service leaders first included fighting in the virtual domain in the Air Forces mission statement in late 2005. A year later, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne announced plans to create Cyber Command.
Lord has a sense of breaking new ground. I feel a little bit like Christopher Columbus, he said in an interview last week.
Prominent network attacks in recent months have helped focus public attention on cyberwarfare. In June, intruders broke into the unclassified network of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, prompting officials to disconnect the affected servers.
Traditional military targets have been exactly that military targets. Maj. Gen. William Lord
Experts say similar attacks from individuals and countries targeting economic, political and military organizations will increase.
To Lord, those attacks illustrate the fundamental difference between traditional warfare and battles in cyberspace.
Traditional military targets have been exactly that military targets, he said.
But in the age of cyberwarfare, the line between civilians as actors on the virtual battlefield and those in uniform gets blurry, he said.
Lord said a different kind of blurriness could work in the militarys favor during offensive operations in the virtual domain: the anonymity of cyberspace.
Experts say identifying the origin of a cyberattack remains difficult. Attackers frequently use several intermediary servers worldwide to disguise their identity. After an incident, the hard part is attribution, said Linton Wells, a former official at the Defense Departments Office of the Chief Information Officer who now teaches at the National Defense University.
But as much as officials are often in the dark about who attacked them, U.S. cyberwarriors could use the cover of anonymity to orchestrate large-scale offensives, Lord said. I could argue this could be a deterrent effect.
In a speech last month, Lord cited some examples of the types of mayhem the U.S. military could one day inflict on adversaries in an attempt to avert a traditional, bloody confrontation. He said the military could use cyberoperations to confuse enemies by opening floodgates, controlling traffic lights or scrambling the banking systems in their countries.
Still, although the thinking about defending against cyberattacks is relatively mature, U.S. doctrine for an all-out cyberwar is still in its infancy and many questions remain unanswered.
For example, the rules for information operations and military deception still are unclear in a virtual world the military shares with civilian society. If you
send an e-mail to cognitively change some thinking on the part of an enemy, how do you send that? Lord asked. If you use the Internet to deliver something, does that mean the Internet is now a legal target? Thats a box we may not wish to open.
During the next year, Lord will help find answers to these questions. His Cyber Command is slated to become a regular Air Force organization in October 2008.