CAPITOL HILL: The top military command responsible for moving American troops and equipment across the globe has become a prime target of persistent cyberattacks in recent months, the command’s chief told Congress today.
Attempted network breaches at Transportation Command have gone up by 30 percent compared to last year, according to Gen. William Frasier. This surge in cyberattacks is more of a concern to TRANSCOM compared to other military commands, since 90 percent of the command’s communications are handled on unclassified networks, Frasier told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee today. That large percentage of unclassified comms is due to the high level of commercial, non-military organizations TRANSCOM must use to move the mountains of equipment and supplies needed to keep the U.S. military running. Since these private companies cannot access the Pentagon’s secured network, known as SIPRNet, they must depend on the unclassified version dubbed NIPERNet — which is more vulnerable to cyberattack. But the command’s dependence on unsecured comms isn’t the only reason why adversaries have set their cyber sights on TRANSCOM. That has more to do with where the U.S. military forces are headed once the wars in Southwest Asia wind down.
The Pentagon is in the midst of shifting its strategic and operational focus from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Western Pacific, to counter potential threats from China and North Korea. This shift was the crux of the White House’s new national security strategy unveiled late last month. Since then, Pentagon and service leaders have been working to get the necessary equipment and supplies into the region, to support the influx of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. “Our adversaries would like to know” where in exactly in the Pacific that U.S. military hardware is headed, Frasier told Breaking Defense shortly after today’s hearing. And the way they are doing that is by stepping up its cyberoffensive against the command, he said. But TRANSCOM is working a plan to make sure America’s enemies can’t pinpoint where U.S. military stockpiles are in the Pacific before they even get there.
One way command officials are tackling the problem is trying to set up a government-run, secure network for private contractors and their military counterparts at TRANSCOM, Frasier explained. This network, or “secure enclave”, would likely be a step below the encryption on DoD’s SIPRNet. But it would allow private shipping firms a way to communicate securely with command officials and “bring things into the command,” Frasier said. Last July, DoD rolled out its new cybersecurity strategy. The plan shifted the Pentagon’s focus in the cyber realm from defense to deterrence and emphasized greater international cooperation between the U.S. and its allies.