While no final decisions have been made, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to recommend the creation of a new military command to face the growing threat from cyber warfare, a senior U.S. official told NBC News on Tuesday.
According to the official, the program would not be on the level of a separate combatant command. Instead, the likely recommendation would be to create a “sub-unified command” that would focus entirely on combating cyber warfare but exist under the current Strategic Command.
A senior Pentagon official revealed that cyber attacks against military computer networks have “increased significantly … more than doubled” in the past six months. The attacks were said to include “thousands of probes a day” against Web sites associated with the Defense Department.
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One such cyber attack occurred two years ago against the military’s most expensive weapons system, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Lightning II program ‚ÄĒ also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. Pentagon officials told The Associated Press that the hackers were able to steal data about some of the plane’s systems through computer networks, although they insisted that the information was not classified and that the loss of the information did not present any potential threat to the aircraft.
One defense official said it is not clear who did it, or whether it was an attempt at corporate thievery or a hacker trying to harm the program. The Pentagon is expected to pay about $300 billion to buy nearly 2,500 of the F-35 jets for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
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Although the number of cyber attacks and simple “probes” has increased, none of the attacks has resulted in the loss of highly classified information, the officials said. The information is contained only in the U.S. military’s internal computer networks, which are not accessible over the Internet and considered largely impenetrable by outside hackers.