DOD adds attack capability to infowar

The latest Pentagon reorganization plan creates for the first time an offensive information warfare (infowar) operation within top echelons of the Defense Department and gives information warfare— both offensive and defensive— increased visibility and clout.

The proposed plan, which is part of a continuing effort by Secretary of Defense William Cohen to fine-tune DOD management, calls for a new deputy assistant secretary for Information Operations post within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. The proposal would also set up two new directorates under InfoOps: one for information assurance or defensive information warfare and— in a far more controversial move— another directorate for offensive information operations.

Although Pentagon insiders— as well as outside observers— have quietly assumed DOD would develop offensive information warfare capabilities, DOD has been reluctant to institutionalize the concept because of political and policy concerns. The offensive InfoOps already has met with some internal resistance, but insiders expect top DOD leadership to sign off on it, believing that the best defense is a good offense.

With U.S. computer and information systems increasingly under attack, insiders say the Pentagon must quickly develop and acknowledge its offensive InfoOps capabilities. ''If for no other reason than to let the bad guys who try to fool around with our systems know we're ready to come after them,'' said one former top DOD official, who embraced the idea.

Last week's widely reported hacker attacks also reinforce the need to manage centrally DOD's defensive infowar capabilities, which are funded to the tune of $3.6 billion over five years. Jacques Gansler, DOD undersecretary for acquisition and technology, told a joint Senate/House hearing last week that the Pentagon ''can no longer be satisfied with reactive or after-the-fact information assurance solutions.''

Tying Together Units

Security industry executives and observers strongly endorsed the new InfoOps structure. Barry Collin, senior research fellow at the Stanford, Calif.-based Institute for Security and Intelligence, said tapping a single person to be responsible for information operations and offensive information warfare will tie together and formalize many disparate projects in the military and intelligence organizations.

"It's the most exciting revelation to date on the information operations front," Collin said. "It shows the maturing nature of information operations as an offensive tool, which is new. It's going to be taken seriously. It says both the attention and the dollars will be there."

Robert Clyde, vice president and general manager of Rockville, Md.-based Axent Technologies Inc., which was tapped by the Air Force to supply intrusion-detection systems and security management for bases worldwide, said the plan to create the new office marks the first time the military has publicly acknowledged any work in offensive warfare.

Warning to Hackers

Clyde said that by creating the new offensive InfoOps structure, the Pentagon has put potential info adversaries on notice. "They're saying, 'We recognize that there are powers out there that are developing this capability,' and we are putting them on notice that we also have it," he said.

Details of this new information warfare structure emerged last week at the same time the Pentagon acknowledged a new round of cyberattacks, which were characterized by Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre as ''the most organized and systematic attack the Pentagon has seen to date.'' These attacks, first reported in the "Defense Information and Electronics Report" newsletter, seemed directed primarily against Air Force and Navy sites during the past month, according to knowledgeable security officials.

Top DOD managers worried that the attacks reflected a coordinated attempt to disrupt U.S. forces as they poured into the Middle East for a possible showdown with Iraq. But Hamre said last week, "We do not see any evidence that there is a tie to Iraq.'' He said the attacks, which happened against nonclassified DOD systems, ''could indeed be a hacker's game. But I personally don't have any knowledge of that."

But an official of one company that provides information-assurance support to DOD, said his company viewed it as more of a hacker's game than anything else. ''All they were doing was banging on the door and letting people know they had been there. The kind of information warfare attacks you really have to worry about are the ones you can't— or don't— detect.''

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