US Air Force designates cyber tools as weapons

US Air Force designates cyber tools as weapons

Summary: Officials say new designations will allow the programs to compete for funding.


Six cyber tools have been given new designations as weapons against cybercrime, which should help the programs compete for funding within the stretched Pentagon budget.


According to Air Force official Lieutenant General John Hyten, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, the new designations will give the military a better chance of securing enough funding to cope with the continual changes taking place within cyber warfare.

Speaking to a cyber conference held in conjunction with the National Space Syposium in Colorado Springs on Monday, according to Reuters, the official said "this means that the game-changing capability that cyber is is going to get more attention and the recognition that it deserves. It's very, very hard to compete for resources [...] You have to be able to make that case."

By reclassifying cyber tools as weapons, the U.S. military has a better chance of securing additional funding in an already stretched and sparse budget. Although no specific details have been released on the nature of the weapons, the United States in conjunction with Israel are believed to be the source of the Stuxnet computer virus, which was used to hit an Iranian nuclear facility in 2008 -- disrupting the country's program and becoming one of the first public examples of digital tools being used to hit industrial targets.

In addition to the reclassification, not only is the Air Force currently developing ways to integrate cyber capabilities in other weapon ranges, but the organization plans to expand its cyber workforce by 1,200 -- including 900 military staff -- shortly, bringing the group's strength to 7,200 personnel.

Hyten's speech comes a month after U.S. officials said that cybercrime has now overtaken terrorism as the top threat against U.S. infrastructure and security. Intelligence officials said that cyber assaults against governmental bodies and infrastructure has risen in recent years, and the rapidly moving pace of digital tool development makes it hard to keep up. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the committee that "In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks."

Add automatic budget cuts to the mix, and therein lies the problem for long-term strategy against cybercriminals.

Although spending on cybersecurity has increased over the past several years, the fragile state of the economy means that programs may become a victim of necessary austerity cuts. However, cybercriminals are simply not going to wait until governments catch up -- and arguably, they are already far out in front.

"We have to do this quickly. We cannot wait," Hyten commented. "If we just let decades go by, the threat will pass us screaming by."

Topics: Security, Government US, Malware

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  • Innovation in cyber security

    Nice one but also check this
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  • Great...

    so now the O'Bama administration will be coming after our "high-capacity" cyber weapons!! Doesn't anyone see the disaster looming? We need the freedom to use our tools as we see fit - otherwise we will be left to let the gubbamint protect us. We can do that just fine our selves! Washington is the last place I'd expect true "cyber-security" - they are all thumbs when it comes to that. I'd laugh at the joke if it wasn't that it isn't funny. We will be relegated to letting the incompetent run our "security" now.
  • So...

    Let's say I write a software program called 'Y Cyber Tool' that does X and release it open source to the world.

    Then the government takes a look at it, sees a potential 'weapon' application of it and says that all cyber tools like 'Y Cyber Tool' are now categorized as 'cyber weapons' on some list. For supposed funding purposes.

    Does that mean that I (and anyone else who download or built on my open source tool) can now be considered a criminal for using 'Y Cyber Tool' because it is now considered a military cyber weapon?

    • Exactly!..

      dittos! :)
  • Not the point

    Umm ... no. The AF has purchased and will continue to purchase cyber tools used for many different reasons. Funding to purchase these tools is similar to the way computers and office supplies are funded. Weapons are funded differently from these items. I hope it's easy to understand why the AF, part of the Department of Defense, would fund weapons differently from paper. Combating terrorism required a new way of thinking about war. Combating cyber warfare is also requiring a new way of thinking about war. If the AF can categorize the computer tools, programs, applications, etc. as "weapons", those tools will be funded at a higher priority.
    Obama will not come after your cyber tools. That’s not what this is about.
    The government is not taking over the cyber security of the United States. The AF is purchasing cyber weapons to protect the AF. Sister services will likely do the same, if not already.
    Say, for example, you develop a cyber tool (maybe a sniffer or a scanner or a Stuxnet virus), you pitch it to the AF, and the AF decides they like it. This category change discussed in the article means your tool stands a greater chance of being approved and purchased since it’s considered a weapon rather than an office tool.