Cyberwar threatens to cause havoc worldwide, but it could be good for the U.S. economy and a handful of publicly listed companies. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, as part of a $582.7 billion budget request to fund his department through 2017, recently said nearly $7 billion of that will be allocated toward improving the military’s ability to develop and deploy offensive cyberweapons. That’s great news for a number of private contractors, who stand to benefit from the spending., and the highly skilled individuals they may end up hiring.
Last week, Carter publicly acknowledged that the U.S. is launching offensive cyberattacks as part of an active war against the Islamic State terrorist group. It was the first time an official of such standing has confirmed the U.S. is actually developing and using the type of digital weapons the international community has long known the American military and American industry are capable of producing.
The admission, combined with the $6.7 billion Carter requested for developing more offensive tools and training American cybersoldiers, is another clear indication that the battlefield is moving online.
“Among other things, this will further DOD’s network defense, which is critical; build more training ranges for our cyberwarriors, and also develop cybertools and infrastructure needed to provide offensive cyberweapons,” Carter said in a speech on Feb. 2, seven days before President Barack Obama submitted the 2017 budget proposal.
The $6.7 billion is an increase over the $5.5 billion designated for “cyberspace operations” in the 2016 fiscal budget, though it was not immediately clear if that phrase refers to offensive cyberattacks. The Defense Department did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.
The budget proposal now moves to congressional subcommittees, where both parties have generally agreed on cybersecurity issues, though a number of prominent Republicans have suggested the 2017 defense budget should be larger.
Defense officials have avoided saying exactly how they have attacked ISIS digitally other than to admit they plan to overload cell, internet and radio networks in an attempt to sabotage planning and coordination efforts.
The Pentagon’s plan comes as China, Russia, Iran and non-state hackers have carried out increasingly aggressive activities against the U.S., including ongoing attacks against numerous high-level email systems, and infiltrating a dam in upstate New York. Carter’s acknowledgement that U.S. attacks are taking place in the theater of war, rather than in a destructive espionage operation like 2010’s Stuxnet attack against Iran’s nuclear program, shows that cyberwar has gone from science fiction to science fact.
“We’re not showing off a capability that no one knows we have, but we’re claiming it,” said P.W. Singer, strategist at the New America Foundation and author of a number of cybersecurity books. “Going back to even the Kosovo war [in 1999], we’ve had the capability to wipe foreign leaders’ bank accounts, or override radar operating systems to hide our planes that are actually dropping bombs.”
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