The Pentagon has approved a major expansion of its cyber security force over the next several years, in an effort to improve its ability to defend critical computer networks, The Washington Post reported.
The Defense Department's Cyber Command, which currently has a staff of about 900, will expand to about 4,900 troops and civilians, the paper reported, citing unnamed officials.
The decision to expand the Cyber Command was made by senior Pentagon officials late last year in recognition of a growing threat in cyberspace, the report said.
Last November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta conceded that U.S. cyber security needed more financial support and human capital.
"We've got good people that are involved in it, but, very frankly, if we're going to stay on the cutting edge of what's happening with regards to the changes that are occurring, we have got to invest more in that area," he said during a speech in Washington hosted by the Center for a New American Security.
The gravity of the threat has been highlighted by a series of sabotage attacks, including one in which a virus was used to wipe data from more than 30,000 computers at a Saudi Arabian state oil company last summer, the paper pointed out.
According to The Post, the plan calls for the creation of three types of forces under the Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that support electrical grids, power plants and other infrastructure deemed critical to national and economic security; “combat mission forces” to help commanders abroad plan and execute attacks or other offensive operations; and “cyber protection forces” to fortify the Defense Department’s networks.
Defense officials said that the new plan will enable the command to better fulfill its mission.
“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 cyber attack on the United States at some point,” William J. Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary who helped fashion the Pentagon’s cyber security strategy, told The 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.”