US military preps for fast-paced digital warfare

A high-ranking US military official has warned that the threat of cyber-warfare is rapidly “redefining” the front lines of national security.

“Any major future conflict will almost certainly include elements of cyber-warfare,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III told the Council on Foreign Relations in a statement quoted by the DoD’s official press service.

“And the threat posed by cyber-warfare extends far beyond military operations – it extends to the very heart of our economy.”

Lynn also expressed his concern over bloated, “sophisticated” defense software which typically comprises between 5 million and 10 million lines of code.

In contrast, the average malware kit has remained relatively constant over the past decade at a lean, deadly and efficient 170 lines.

“Defense software is massive, work intensive and difficult to develop. This mismatch between cyber offense and defense is [quite] substantial – and will be a fact of life for the immediate future.”

“Structurally, you will find the defender is always lagging behind the attacker in terms of developing measures and countermeasures. [So], adept programmers will always be able to find vulnerabilities and challenge security measures.”

According to Lynn, the “forensics” of identifying an attacker is another issue security officials are forced to grapple with, as the painstaking process often takes “weeks, months, or even years” – if it can be done at all.

“If you don’t know who to attribute an attack to, you can’t retaliate against that attack, so you can’t deter through the threat of punishment. [Clearly], we need to be more innovative and active.

“[In addition], we need to continue to leverage [our] technological base to retain the cyber advantage…Over time, we can develop techniques that will even out offense and defense to a greater degree than we see now.”