Pentagon to build 4900-member cybersecurity force

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Pentagon to build 4900-member cybersecurity force

As Anonymous claims to have pilfered Justice data.

The Pentagon plans to assign significantly more personnel in coming years to counter increasing threats against US government computer networks and conduct offensive operations against foreign foes, a US defence official said.

The plan, which would increase both military and civilian staffing at US Cyber Command, comes as the Pentagon moves toward elevating the new command and putting it on the same level as the major combatant commands.

The official said no formal decisions had been made on the expanding staffing levels or changing Cyber Command into a "unified" command like US Strategic Command, which currently oversees cyber command and the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

Any changes to the combatant command structure would be made based on strategic and operational needs, and take into account the need for efficient use of taxpayer dollars, said the official, who was not authorised to speak publicly.

The Pentagon was working closely with US Cyber Command and the major military commands to develop "the optimum force structure for successfully operating in cyberspace," the official said.

The Washington Post, quoting senior defence officials, reported late Sunday that the Pentagon had decided to expand Cyber Command's current staffing level of 900 to 4900 in coming years.

The official confirmed that Cyber Command planned to expand its force significantly, but said the specific numbers cited by the Post were "pre-decisional."

The newspaper said senior Pentagon officials had agreed to increase the force late last year amid a string of attacks, including one that wiped out more than 30,000 computers at a Saudi Arabian state oil company. it said

The plan calls for creating three types of force under the Cyber Command, said the defence official.

"National mission forces," would protect computer systems that undergird electrical grids and other kinds of infrastructure. "Combat mission forces," would help commanders abroad execute attacks or other offensive operations, while "cyber protection forces," would focus on protecting the Defence Department's own systems.

Details were still being worked out, the official said.

Hackers hit Justice website

News of the cyber response build-up came as hackers sympathetic to the late computer prodigy Aaron Swartz claimed on Saturday to have infiltrated the website of the US Justice Department's Sentencing Commission, and said they planned to release government data.

The Sentencing Commission site, www.ussc.gov , was shut down early Saturday.

Identifying themselves as Anonymous, a loosely organised group of unknown provenance associated with a range of recent online actions, the hackers voiced outrage over Swartz' suicide on January 11.

In a video posted online, the hackers criticised the government's prosecution of Swartz, who had been facing trial on charges that he used the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's computer networks to steal more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service.

Swartz had faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison and fines of up to US$1 million.

The FBI is investigating the attack, according to Richard McFeely, of the bureau's Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch.

"We were aware as soon as it happened and are handling it as a criminal investigation," McFeely said in an emailed statement. "We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person's or government agency's network."

For help or to speak to someone, call Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au

(Pentagon reporting by Sarah Lynch and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by David Brunnstrom. Anonymous hack reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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