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Army ramps up cybersecurity skills training

Nov. 1, 2012 - 06:50AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2012 - 06:50AM  |  
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The Army is building its first cyber brigade as fast as it can, but the needed skills can be hard to attain, according to the Army's top intelligence official.

Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, called the effort to train Army cyber warriors "a conscious development of some of the brightest and most skilled soldiers we've ever attempted to create."

"These are not kids coming out of Dover High School in New Hampshire," Legere quipped. "These are soldiers that need time and training, coming out of our best universities."

Last year, the Army stood up the Fort Meade, Md.-based 780th Military Intelligence Brigade. The unit operates outside of the Army's firewalls, finding and defining cyber threats, including rogue-state- and nonstate-affiliated hackers, and shadowy criminal enterprises all in defense of military networks.

"We are building intelligence soldiers that can operate out there to detect threats against our networks, to characterize where those threats are coming from and to provide [analysis] to defenders and hunters inside the network who will cut that threat off," Legere said.

First cyber brigade

Assigned to Intelligence and Security Command, the 780th is under the operational control of Army Cyber Command, which is subordinate to U.S. Cyber Command. U.S. Cyber Command defends Defense Department networks and conducts full-spectrum cyber operations, and Army Cyber Command vets the taskings for the brigade, which come from combatant commands.

As the unit fills its two battalions, it is acquiring a mix of civilian contractors and soldiers, sending soldiers through a series of developmental assignments that can take three to five years.

These uniformed soldiers become cryptologic network warfare specialists, or 35Qs. They first gain experience performing basic information technology, support and maintenance tasks and later rotate into operational teams to examine targets and perform analysis.

The Army is offering bonuses ranging from $9,400 to $32,200 for soldiers in the ranks of sergeant through sergeant first class who qualify and transfer into the 35Q military occupational specialty. The bonuses are offered through the Bonus Extension and Retraining program.

Quickly turning out cyber warriors is not the Army's only challenge.

Lt. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, commanding general of Army Cyberspace Command at Fort Meade, Md., said that as the Army seeks to link land and cyber warfare, it is facing difficult questions about how to conduct offensive operations without unintended consequences and about the permissions commanders must obtain.

Hernandez said the Army is trying to develop capabilities that can provide localized, tactical effects for commanders.

"We will still have the authorities process to go through, but it will probably be easier to go through," Hernandez said. "We can have the national strategic discussion or the tactical conversation."

Cyber and land operations

Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, said Army Cyber Command's support during a recent III Corps exercise downgraded the opposition force's command and control by 40 percent.

During the exercise, Campbell called on his forces to leverage social media "from a targeting standpoint," to "get after the populace and the [opposing] government" as they fought.

"How far can we go to target this network or that network, or that capability or system?" Campbell asked. "I'm not sure you'll ever clearly, clearly define it because once you build a capability, someone's building a capability to counter that."

Legere also noted that cyberwarfare is challenging and dynamic, and that it requires agility, and she alluded to the ongoing national conversation about cyber legislation.

Over the summer, the Senate failed to pass cybersecurity legislation that was supported by national security leaders and the president but condemned by Republicans, who feared it would be onerous for businesses.

"It is a necessity that our nation understand that we are under attack as we speak," Legere said, "and we can continue to attempt to defend, but we will also need an ability to respond proactively to eliminate that threat."

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