DoD cyber infrastructure moving steadily toward full operational capability

What constitutes an act of war in cyberspace? Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran – all made headlines in the past year by conducting malicious acts against the United States. So far, however, their actions do not fall under the category that would constitute an act of war. To counter these nonetheless dangerous threats, the U.S. Department of Defense () has evolved several responses over the last few years.

This year, the Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network (JFHQ-DoDIN) – the unit that operates under U.S. Cyber Command to secure, defend, and operate the 15,000 networks and 3 million users under DoD control – has achieved full operational capability.

The much-needed infrastructure is shaping up, with DoD officials noting that all 133 Cyber Mission Force teams that fall under the U.S. Cyber Command are on schedule to achieve the same capability. To assist in this endeavor, the command has implemented Operation Gladiator Shield (OGS), a unit that aims to organize “the DoDIN into operational areas and designates DoD commanders and directors as responsible for the operation and defense of each named area,” according to DoD officials.

The most recent exercise for these cyber troops was the Arctic Eagle 2018, which focused on security: Air and Army National Guardsmen trained in identifying potential dealt with scenarios involving such scenarios as the crash of a ­satellite, cyber protection, and cyber hygiene. National Guard cyberprofessionals also identified a phishing attack on the city of Valdez.

The U.S. Cyber Command was established in 2009; last year, the Trump administration initiated the process to elevate the Cyber Command to a higher level under a new unified Combatant Command. “This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nation’s defense. The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries,” President Donald J. Trump said in a statement released by the White House.

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Figure 1: Cyberwarfare specialists serving with the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard engage in weekend training at Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland, in June 2017. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force/J.M. Eddins Jr.
(Click graphic to zoom)
 

According to DoD documents, the U.S. Cyber Command “plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure U.S./Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”

DoD News reports that Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers – director of the National Security Agency, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and chief of the Central Security Service – stated during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the U.S. Cyber Command’s three vital mission areas endure under the continual protection of DoD networks.

Rogers told the committee, “Without cyberspace superiority in today’s battlefield, risk to mission increases across all domains and endangers our security.”

Two noteworthy milestones for the U.S. Cyber Command for this year include the elevation to combatant command and a new state-of-the-art facility. In the same DoD report, it states the facility will enhance coordination and planning efforts of operations against cyber threats. (Figure 1.)

The final piece of the puzzle will be addressing the ultimate question: What constitutes an act of war in cyberspace? Officials have yet to answer this question with any real clarity. There is still not a clear path to declaring an act of war against another nation or entity after a cyberattack.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has stated that under “questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon ventured last year that ‘the determination of what constitutes an ‘act of war’ in or out of cyberspace, would be made on a case-by-case and fact-specific basis by the President.” FAS, according to the entity’s website, “provides science-based analysis of and solutions to protect against ­catastrophic threats to national and international security.”

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