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The United States' top commanding officer for the space and cyber domains told reporters last week that a cyber attack could merit a more conventional military response.

During a press briefing on Thursday, US Air Force General Kevin Chilton, who heads the US Strategic Command, said that top Pentagon advisors would not rule out a physical attack on any force that attacks the United States through the internet. Currently, the military's networks are probed thousands of times a day, but the goal of attackers seems to be espionage, not to take down critical networks, he told reporters.

"I don’t think you take anything off the table when you provide options to the president to decide," said Chilton, according to Stars and Stripes. "You don’t take any response options off the table from an attack on the United States of America. Why would we constrain ourselves on how we would respond?"

At the briefing, the top military official also argued for the Pentagon's cyber commands to be joined into a single joint command, according to The Air Force Times. Currently, the Defense Department splits the offensive and defensive cyber capabilities into two organizations: the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO) and the Joint Functional Component Commander-Network Warfare (JFCC-NW) run by the National Security Agency. The US Strategic Command would need 2,000 to 4,000 more employees to handle the mission, said Chilton, according to the Associated Press.

Following numerous attacks on Pentagon networks, with adversaries copying terabytes of military data, the United States has increased its focus on locking down its networks and formulating a military doctrine for cyberspace. Many of the attacks on US networks are launched from servers in the People's Republic of China, leading officials to blame Chinese government-funded hackers for the attacks.

In his statements to reporters, Chilton stressed that members of the US military service must begin to think of their computers as the front lines. He likened a serviceman turning on his computer with "stepping to the guard gate of his base," according to The Air Force Times report.

President Barack Obama and US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have not decided on what type of organization the nation's military will pursue in the cyber domain. The Obama administration is currently reviewing the United State's cyber policy in a 60-day review, which is overdue.

This article originally appeared in SecurityFocus.

Copyright © 2009, SecurityFocus

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