Yesterday’s story in The Washington Post about a Defense Science Board (DSB) report on Chinese cyber espionage sent a chill through the defense community. The list of major defense programs that Chinese hackers had successfully penetrated amounted to most of America’s military crown jewels. Espionage is not new. Neither is the use of cyber space to acquire critical military and economic intelligence. What is noteworthy in this story and in recent reports by the Intelligence Community, Pentagon and Congress is the breadth and depth of Chinese cyber espionage efforts. The Chinese cyber “blitzkrieg” is massive, sophisticated and determined.
The Department of Defense and the defense industry have long been the primary object of cyber attacks, not just by China but by other countries and even individuals in the homeland. Over time, the military has developed sophisticated organizations, tactics, techniques and tools to defend military networks and data. The creation of U.S. Cyber Command and the service components has been a major step forward.
The greater challenge is to defend infrastructure, networks and data in the hands of private companies. In theory the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for defense of the U.S. homeland and its infrastructure from cyber attack. But DHS lacks the authorities, organizations, manpower and money to do a credible job. Many private companies treat cyber attacks, including theft of IP and money, as a cost of doing business. Therefore, they seek to do only the minimum required in the way of network defenses. A recent report by Congressmen Markey and Waxman criticizes private companies that own and operate most of the nation’s electric power grid for their failure to do more to secure this vital system from cyber attack.
Defense companies do not have the luxury of doing the minimum. Not only does their customer, the Pentagon, demand protection of classified information but the companies recognize that it is in their own interest to secure critical information. As the intensity and sophistication of cyber intrusions has increased, so too have the efforts by these companies to secure themselves. Major defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics stood up cyber defense units, initially to protect their own networks and computer systems. In many ways, these companies are now on the front line of the ongoing and intensifying cyber war.
These internal defense units have become extraordinarily capable and effective. The Lockheed Martin Security Intelligence Center for Network Defense operates like a military command center, monitoring, characterizing and responding to attacks 24/7. It has developed unique skills, concepts of operations and tools. This asset is so good that the company is now offering the capabilities developed by the Center to the federal government and select private companies. Because it too is a private company that must demonstrate a return on invested capital, earn revenues and achieve a profit, Lockheed Martin is capable of helping other private companies establish cyber security systems that are cost-effective.
The U.S. government cannot outsource most of its responsibilities for cyber security, particularly for offensive cyber operations. However, when it comes to cyber defense, the nation increasingly is dependent on the private sector.
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