By Carlo Muñoz - 03/19/12 05:20 PM EDT
The Pentagon is investing heavily in an arsenal of cyberweapons as a debate rages in Congress about how and when they should be used.
The Defense Department is pouring roughly $3.4 billion into cyberwarfare accounts across the services and various combat commands, according to The Washington Post.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — the Pentagon's premiere research and development office — is setting its sights on cyberweapons that could cripple the computer networks of an enemy force.
DARPA is focusing "an increasing portion of its cyber research on 'offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs,' " Ken Gabriel, the agency's deputy director, told House lawmakers in February.
Gabriel’s comments represented a shift in DOD's approach to cyberwar, which until recently was focused on defending U.S. military networks from attacks.
Cyberattacks have been growing in frequency and intensity over the past few months, and have been directed at new areas in the U.S. military. Attempted network breaches at Transportation Command have gone up by 30 percent compared to last year, according to command chief Gen. William Fraser.
Transportation command has become of particular interest as the Pentagon presses ahead with plans to shift its forces from Afghanistan and Iraq into the Western Pacific. Since the command will be responsible for moving that mountain of metal across the globe, finding out when and where those troops are going would be invaluable information to U.S. adversaries.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, are debating if and when the military should engage in cyberwar.
"The most difficult strategic challenge" facing the United States in the realm of cyberwarfare is "distinguishing between cyberespionage, intrusions and potentially disruptive attacks and providing timely warning of cyberthreats and incidents," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said during a March 13 hearing. "We would [need] some way of bringing to a resolution that issue so we can have some criteria to determine when the nation is under … military attack that needs a response, or a military-like attack that requires a response."
To that end, Northern Command chief Gen. Charles Jacoby said there was "momentum across the [Defense] Department and across the government" to get some kind of policy in place to make those determinations.
"I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation," Jacoby added.
DOD is having trouble turning that momentum into tangible results, however.
Cyberwar is still an area "we have undervalued and under stressed and in some cases, have fallen behind," Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a March 8 speech in Arlington, Va. "We need to do something [more] to get us in the game."