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Mission possible: Pentagon ramps up development of cyberweapons

Date

Ellen Nakashima

The United States is hoping to speed up the development of cyber weapons.

The United States is hoping to speed up the development of cyber weapons. Photo: Jim Young

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is planning to dramatically speed up the development of new cyberweapons, giving it the ability in some cases to field weapons against specific targets in a matter of days, according to a new Pentagon report to Congress.

The rapid acquisition process is designed to respond to ''urgent, mission-critical'' needs when the risk to operations and personnel is unacceptable if threats are not addressed quickly, according to the 16-page report.

Congress required the Pentagon to prepare the report on how it could accelerate the acquisition of cyberweapons.

The result, which builds on last year's defence strategy for cyberspace, puts the Pentagon's two-year-old Cyber Command in charge of a new registry of weapons that would catalogue their capabilities and where they are stored.

The military is also grappling with the establishment of rules for cyberwarfare.

The report on cyberweapons acquisition, sent to Congress in recent weeks but not made public, describes a new level of department-wide oversight with the establishment of a Cyber Investment Management Board, chaired by senior Pentagon officials.

The board was set up to prevent abuse of the fast-track process, since the cost of cyberweapons is often too low to trigger normal oversight processes.

The board will also help ensure military and intelligence cyber authorities are co-ordinated, officials said.

''We can't sit around and wait for [the traditional weapons-building process],'' said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's acting undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics and co-chairman of the new board, in a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in February.

''We've got to take it outside the conventional system for these major, long-term weapon systems entirely.''

The new framework sets up two systems for cyberweapons development: rapid and deliberate. The rapid process will take advantage of existing or nearly completed hardware and software developed by industry and government laboratories. This approach could take months in some cases, a few days in others.

The deliberate process is designed for weapons whose use carries greater risks. It would be for projects expected to take longer than nine months.

Herbert S. Lin, an expert on the subject at the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, said the Pentagon has recognised that ''cyberweapons are fundamentally different'' than conventional weapons in important ways.

''You can make a general-purpose fighter plane and it will function more or less the same in the Pacific as in the Atlantic,'' Mr Lin said.

''The same is not true for going after a Russian cyber-target versus a Chinese target.''

The Washington Post

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