U.S. in never-ending war in cyberspace

The pace and intensity of cyberattacks against Defense Department computers and networks has increased so much that the Pentagon now considers itself continually at war.

"Peace really does not exist in the Information Age," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, director of the National Security Agency.

NSA serves as the Pentagon's lead computer security agency. Minihan, testifying at a Senate hearing this month, said, "The information infrastructure is under constant attack. Attacks are occurring every day."

Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, speaking at the same hearing, said the United States "is now vulnerable to an electronic attack" against its critical computer-based infrastructure, including its "natural-gas and power system, all controlled by computers where security was not designed in at the outset."

Hamre said that in an NSA-run exercise last year, called "Eligible Receiver," which was staged to assess how well the computer systems that support the nation's infrastructure could resist cyberattacks, proved the systems were "deeply vulnerable."

Hamre said that the exercise and DOD evaluations of actual attacks has shown that "the country has a massive infrastructure [that is] not designed to resist attack." Hamre urged widespread use of encryption by the government and the private sector in order to defend vital U.S. networks and computers. He also acknowledged that policy debates over privacy concerns has slowed down deployment of encryption systems.

Minihan said not only has the pace of cyberwar increased, but that the focus has shifted from "unstructured" probes by teenage hackers to "structured" attacks by more advanced and better-organized foes. Structured attacks, Minihan said, are so sophisticated that "we don't know to what degree" the United States is being attacked. Minihan did not identify these more sophisticated adversaries, but Hamre said, "Cyberattacks could be state-sponsored attacks."

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