US Air Force designates cyber tools as weapons

Officials say new designations will allow the programs to compete for funding.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

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."

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