During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on May 9, 2017, head of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), Admiral Mike Rogers, informed the senators that the United States had sent a warning to French government officials that Russia was penetrating French computer systems ahead of the French election on May 7, 2017.
Rogers stated that the U.S. government told the French, “Look, we’re watching the Russians; we’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure.” According to Defense News, “Tens of thousands of internal emails and other documents” were released to the public online in the days running up to the French elections. Cyber research firms reportedly linked the cyberattack on France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, to a group affiliated with Russia. The same group is blamed for interfering in U.S. elections in 2016, according to Defense News.
According to Rogers’ written testimony before the committee, USCYBERCOM has been a sub-unified command under U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) since its creation in 2009. USCYBERCOM is set to become a unified combatant command in the near future, which will make it one of the U.S. military’s handful of major war-fighting commands. That fact speaks to the importance policymakers place on U.S. efforts to combat cyber warfare, and the threat it poses to American national interests.
Rogers pointed out that USCYBERCOM tracks both state and non-state adversaries, as the latter continue to “expand their capabilities to advance their interests in and through cyberspace.” He also stated that these actors continue to try to “undermine the United States’ national interests and those of our allies.”
The command is particularly concerned as the United States’ adversaries probe and exploit systems used by government, law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies. The command is convinced that such behavior will continue “for as long as autocratic regimes believe they have more to gain than to lose by challenging their opponents in cyberspace.”
As an example, according to Rogers, in 2016, the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment of seven Iranians for cyber disruptions of U.S. financial institutions. The Attorney General reported that 46 U.S. companies together suffered “tens of millions of dollars in losses as a result of the attacks.”
USCYBERCOM is also focusing its efforts on countering violent extremist groups. Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS use the internet to publicize their attacks, spread their jihadi message, and recruit followers and operatives. In this vein, Rogers stated that the command is supporting operations against violent extremist groups, especially across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. He also stated that USCYBERCOM supports U.S. Special Operations Command and National Counterterrorism Center efforts as well.
The U.S. Cyber Command was created in 2009 at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. It centralizes command of cyberspace operations, organizes existing cyber resources, and synchronizes defense of U.S. military networks. The command has also moved into the offensive realm of cyber warfare since its inception, and one imagines it will continue to do so as time goes on, and as cyber warfare continues to mature around the globe.
(Featured image courtesy of C-SPAN)