Top officials: U.S. must shift to more aggressive cyber approach

Top officials: U.S. must shift to more aggressive cyber approach

Top U.S. military officials on Tuesday warned that the nation’s defense force is lagging behind other countries that are actively ramping up their cyber capabilities, with some arguing that the U.S. must shift from the position of a defender to that of an aggressor.

Senior cyber representatives from the U.S. Army Cyber Command, Marines Corps, Navy and Air Force appeared before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity to testify about the challenges and needs they are encountering.

Major Gen. Chris Weggeman, Air Force cyber commander, said cyber is different from traditional military arenas because there are not recognized geographical lines drawn like there are for land, air and sea.

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Weggeman argued that the U.S. military must become “more oriented on mission outcomes, risk models, and threat driven operations” in order to allow the U.S. “to become the challenger instead of the challenged.”

His remarks come after Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites Hillicon Valley: Justice Department appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | New report on election security | FBI agent testifies in marathon hearing MORE (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee, expressed concern about the ongoing Russian efforts to sow discord in U.S. affairs and meddle in elections.

“I fear for American democratic institutions if we don’t attack,” Nelson said.

Nelson also raised concern that there is no government-wide policy established that lays out how to respond when the U.S. faces a cyberattack. He cited several cases in which nation-states — not just Russia, but North Korea and others as well — carried out attacks against the U.S. or American organizations.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Mulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-S.D.), the subcommittee's chairman, pointed to the challenge of naming the attacker in the case of cyber threats, which contrasts from the military’s ability to more quickly determine who is carrying out the attack against them.

All the witnesses spoke about the ongoing need to recruit and retain talented cyber professionals, and all four said they are testing ways to give credit and bonuses to reward good work. 

Vice Adm. Michael Gilday of the U.S. Navy also added that they are confronted with a noncompetitive salary of $37,000 per year, which lags far behind the base pay of the private sector.