U.S. Army Launches Its Premier Cyber Brigade

March 16, 2012
By Beverly Schaeffer

Although fiscal year 2015 is the target time frame for full operational capability, personnel from the U.S. Army's 780th Military Intelligence Brigade--the service's first-ever cyber brigade--already are helping to secure the Defense Department's networks against cyber attacks. While the unit was officially activated on December 1, prep work for the group has been ongoing since at least 1998, according to Technology Editor George I. Seffers in his article, "Historic Cyber Unit Begins Daily Action," in this issue of SIGNAL Magazine. Seffers speaks with Col. John Sweet, USA, who is the brigade's commander. The brigade has had a contingent in the combat theater for months, according to Col. Sweet, who explains:

We have an expeditionary cyber capability to assist Army units in defense of their networks. We have a team that is forward deployed right now in Afghanistan. They go forward to help the brigade combat team secure their networks.

The expeditionary cyber capability is mission-oriented so that forward-deployed network security contingents are tailorable to each specific mission. Its goal is to conduct signals intelligence and computer network operations, including supporting U.S. forces by enabling a dynamic computer network defense and, when directed, conducting offensive operations. Ensuring that U.S. forces can operate freely in the cyberdomain while preventing adversaries from doing the same is the brigade's main mission. Col. Sweet explains that the brigade improves upon security every day in the conduct of its mission, working on protecting Defense Department networks. And what exactly is the threat? According to Col. Sweet and other Defense Department officials, that threat includes an average of 250,000 probes per hour on its 15,000 networks and more than 7 million computing devices. That computes to approximately 6 million times a day that someone is trying to break into defense networks, the colonel contends. In addition, cyberthreats continue to grow in scope and severity on a daily basis, defense officials warn, with more than 60,000 new malicious software programs or variations identified every single day. The brigade works closely with other cyber organizations, such as the National Security Agency, Army Cyber Command and U.S. Cyber Command. The unit has an administrative control relationship with the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), and as such, INSCOM provides administrative support such as budgeting. Operational control, however, is held by Army Cyber Command. Will the Army's cyber brigade be able to continue performing its duties as a virtual Hadrian's Wall in cyberspace? Indications thus far would confirm so. What are your impressions? Read the complete article; we look forward to your input.

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I think that the analogy to Hadrian's Wall is quite appropriate. The wall was designed to filter and control the traffic back in 122 A.D. Given the 80 or so kilometres it had to cover it never could have worked as a purely defensive wall.

Thanks for your observation on the analogy, Colin, because that is exactly what I intended to convey in my question. No matter how big the wall, whether virtual or real, someone will always work to breach the defenses.

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