The (digital) arms race is on. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is pushing to massively expand his department’s cyber command forces from 900 to 4,000, and to increase America’s defensive and offensive cyber capacities. According to the NYT, Panetta’s plan is a response to the increasing role cyber attacks are playing in warfare:
In October, Mr. Panetta warned in dire terms that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial network and government. He said that “an aggressor nation” or extremist group could cause a national catastrophe, and that he was reacting to increasing assertiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.
Attacking the U.S. through hacking looks very attractive for enemies who can’t match America’s strength in conventional war. Cyber assaults can be just as crippling as their more kinetic cousins, and far easier to pull off. Moreover, the more our battle operations depend on computer networks and information technology, the more vulnerable they are to attack. The U.S. must achieve the same kind of superiority in digital war that it has on the conventional battlefield, and Congress should give Secretary Panetta everything he needs to make it happen.