The US military is planning a massive increase in the capabilities of its Cyber Command online-warfare department as it seeks to exert dominance over the digital battlefield.
"Given the malicious actors that are out there and the development of the technology, in my mind, there's little doubt that some adversary is going to attempt a significant cyberattack on the United States at some point," William Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary, told the Washington Post.
"The only question is whether we're going to take the necessary steps like this one to deflect the impact of the attack in advance or . . . read about the steps we should have taken in some post-attack commission report," he said.
Currently there are around 900 uniformed and civilian staff employed by the Pentagon in its Cyber Command, which is separate from the National Security Agency – at least in principle. In practice, however, the two work side-by-side, and both are headed by the same man, General Keith Alexander
A senior defense official told the paper that the Pentagon would primarily focus on online activity outside of US domestic borders, and would only be involved in major online attacks, not minor hacking and phishing annoyances. US companies and those international companies that use American-hosted services won't be touched.
"There's no intent to have the military crawl inside industry or private networks and provide that type of security," the official said.
The staffing increase is scheduled to begin later this year and next, but there are likely to be problems simply finding that many people with the right skills to do the job. The military was at last year's Black Hat hacking conference looking for recruits and support from the private security industry, but weren't finding many takers.
Security researchers who have worked with the Pentagon have complained that all too often the government wants to know their security tricks, but isn't willing to share its knowledge or pay the kind of rates that researchers can make in private industry.
There's also the fact that other government agencies are increasingly targeting the security community for special investigation over the last few years, since WikiLeaks started releasing US State Department cables. Many in the industry are feeling little love for the US government at the moment, and this could reduce its ability to hire the best talent.
General Alexander has agreed to stay on in his roles until at least 2014 to manage the increase in numbers.