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Military set to lead on US domestic cyber-security

NSA, Cyber Command have 'unparalleled expertise'

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The US military will play a leading role in defending homeland America from cyber attacks, and this will include providing cybersecurity to key infrastructure on US soil.

Robert J Butler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, briefed senators in Washington on the plans yesterday. Butler stated that the Defense department would of course safeguard its own .mil domain, but would also closely collaborate with the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to guard and patrol the rest of America's cyber territory.

Philip Reitinger, DHS bigwig, seemed to imply that the military would lead on cybersecurity even in the domestic sphere.

"We each bring unique things to the table," he said. "DOD [the Defense Department] has unparalleled technical expertise and cyber expertise."

Giving a hint as to just which bits of America the military would be keenest to secure, Butler stated that the US armed forces are "critically dependent" on the civilian power network, telecoms, transport and many other sectors run using computer networks.

"Just as our reliance on critical infrastructure has grown, so have the threats," Butler told the Senate homeland-security committee. His remarks were reported by the US forces press service.

Evidently it is the US military's job to protect the United States from threats both foreign and domestic, but nonetheless there will be those worried by the prospect of military intelligence and security agencies getting involved in utility companies' networks and databases.

To some degree this is already happening. News emerged last year that the National Security Agency (NSA) - which not everyone remembers is a combat support agency of the Defense department – had set up a "black" (secret) programme called "Perfect Citizen", intended to set up monitoring equipment on networks deemed to be of national-security importance, perhaps including those of utility companies.

This would allow the NSA to know when attacks were happening, rather than relying on companies to realise this and then report it. However the prospect also existed that such kit could allow for pervasive monitoring of such things as whether a given property was occupied, perhaps where a given car or rail passenger had been etc etc.

One insider was quoted as saying that "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother".

At the time the NSA insisted to the Reg that Perfect Citizen is "a research and engineering effort. There is no monitoring involved ... it does not involve the monitoring of communications or the placement of sensors on utility company systems ... Any suggestions that there are illegal or invasive domestic activities associated with this contracted effort are simply not true."

Nonetheless the news that the NSA – whose chief is also in command of the uniformed Cyber Command and subsidiary single-service cyberwar units such as the 24th Air Force, 10th Fleet etc – is apparently to advise and guide – if not lead outright – US domestic cyber security efforts may give rise to a little disquiet as well as reassurance. ®

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