SOCOM Commander: U.S. Must Develop More Offensive Cyber Weapons
Photo: Defense Dept.
Instead of focusing the bulk of its resources on deflecting cyber breaches from adversaries, the U.S. military must place more emphasis on developing its offensive cyber capability, said the commander of Special Operations Command on Dec. 13.
“While defending is paramount, arguably … the greatest space for advancement is in the realm of attack and exploit,” said Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III. “We have the technology, we just have to embrace … [cyber] as an essential weapon in our arsenal.”
There is a tendency to focus on the vulnerabilities side of cybersecurity, but that must be tended to while also building up a top-notch offensive capability, he said during remarks at a conference hosted by the Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare in Arlington, Virginia.
“Our adversaries are moving out aggressively and boldly. We need to keep pace,” he said. “This [generation’s] Sputnik space race is in cyberspace.”
However, commanders are often bogged down by policies and regulations that slow down the process of launching an offensive attack, Thomas said.
“The limiting factor for cyber effectiveness continues to revolve around policy and process,” he said. “Our leaders recognize this problem.”
In many instances, it is easier to conduct a kinetic strike on an individual person or target than to launch an offensive cyber operation, he noted.
“However, due to great work, much of it from the U.S. Cyber Command … we’ve seen a huge improvement,” he said. “In areas of declared hostility with a standing execution order, the approval to execute a timeline for offensive cyber operations has compressed significantly.”
Despite this marked improvement, the process is still too slow, he added. “[We need to] get policy in line with the requirement and reality. We need to move at the speed of war for operational approval.”
Another inhibitor of effective cyber operations is the military’s current geographic command-and-control structure, Thomas said.
“The cyber domain is not confined to a geographic commandant command construct,” he said. “Correspondingly, our … structure is not conducive to the most agile, effective approach to the threat.”
Cheap cyber tools allow terrorist organizations to act like nation-states, and enable nation-states to act like global powers, he said. “Our adversaries can move at the speed of electrons.”
To optimize the effect of cyber operations, it is important that the military integrate its various efforts. The military also needs to better work with its international partners, Thomas said.
“We cannot succeed in a global domain without international and industry partners,” he said. “To have partners, we have to share information with them. Our current method of classification does not facilitate sharing. Our current default is not sharing enough.”