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Clear cyber mission called crucial in defense budget battles

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Defense Department must avoid the “circular arguments” that result from its inability to stick to a definition for cyberspace operations, an Air Force general said Monday.

At stake: The resources that defense officials say they need to fight in cyberspace, he said.

Striking an admittedly “frustrated” tone, Lt. Gen. John Hyten, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said the military must move past defining cyberspace operations so that it can fully focus on its ever-increasing threats.

“We need to stop fighting about it and agree on what it is and move forward,” Hyten told a crowded conference room Monday.

Hyten’s speech came during Cyber 1.3 — the kickoff event for the 29th National Space Symposium at The Broadmoor. The symposium, which ends Thursday, is expected to draw about 9,000 people, including top Air Force commanders and heavyweights in the defense contracting industry.

The threat of cyber attacks is increasing and they are more sophisticated.

The most recent large-scale attack came Sunday, when the hacker group Anonymous targeted Israeli government websites. The Foreign Ministry’s website was taken down for a few seconds, but no other ministries behind the government firewall were affected, said Ram Alfia, an official at the Finance Ministry.

Other attacks have proven more disruptive. In January 2012, for example, hackers paralyzed the websites of Israel’s stock exchange and national airline while claiming to have published details of thousands of Israeli credit cards.

In the United States, financial institutions have borne an increasing share of cyber attacks looking to cull confidential information.

If the military hopes to ask for increased funding from Congress for cyberspace operations — an increasingly difficult task as Pentagon budgets shrink, due in part to billions in automatic budget cuts that went in place March 1 — then it needs to clearly articulate its mission, Hyten said.

So far, that’s been a difficult task.

He complained that too many defense programs get lumped into the cyber discussion — such as its network of global positioning satellites, which he labeled a weapons system, much like the F-22 fighter jet.

“I tell you what, if we allow these definitions to be… too unwieldy, they lose their meaning,” Hyten said. “And they become weapons in the religious debate between different elements or our force.

“And every time that happens, it’s a mess.”
 

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