Offense and defense not clearly separable in cyberspace, says Cybercom general


The differences between offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace are uncertain to the point of not always being clearly separable, said Maj. Gen. Brett Williams, director of operations at Cyber Command.

"People that operate in this space know that you can't do those in isolation," Williams told an industry audience during a Feb. 22 AFCEA DC cybersecurity conference held in Washington, D.C. "You can't clearly define what is defense and what is offense."

He drew on a medieval battle analogy, saying that "catching arrows is not all that much fun. At some point, it's preferable to go kill the archer."

As a result, a previous policy emphasis on "deconfliction" is no longer tenable, Williams said. There are rules for DoD cyberspace operations, Williams said, stating that the Defense Department doesn't operate "like a hacker in his basement" and must consider the wide variety of secondary effects made possible by the interconnectedness of military and civilian online infrastructure.

The DoD doesn't do "everything we possibly could" in cyberspace, he added.

But although differences exist between cyberspace and other warfare domains such as land, sea or air, "there's no such thing as cyber conflict, there is only conflict, and in cyber lies just another medium in which to exercise the elements of national power," Williams said.

Cyber Command is undergoing a reorganization to align its force structure to particular missions, Williams said. Combatant commanders should be able to ask for cyber units in type and number such as in the way they can ask for Army Stryker brigades.

The command is in need of a mission planning and executing system the equivalent of the Theater Battle Management Core Systems that Air Force generals use to coordinate and link individual tactical missions to strategy, Williams said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a broad agency announcement for such a thing under the name of Plan X, he noted.

For more:
- watch Williams' speech on C-SPAN

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