Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 14:47 UK

US needs 'digital warfare force'

960th Network Security Squadron
The US has set up specialised detachments dealing with IT problems

The head of America's National Security Agency says that America needs to build a digital warfare force for the future, according to reports.

Lt Gen Keith Alexander, who also heads the Pentagon's new Cyber Command, outlined his views in a report for the House Armed Services subcommittee.

In it, he stated that the US needed to reorganise its offensive and defensive cyber operations.

The general also said more resources and training were needed.

The report, part of which was outlined in an Associated Press news agency story, is due to be presented to the subcommittee on Tuesday.

During the past six months, the Pentagon spent more than £67m ($100m) responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other network problems.

Gen Keith Alexander's new department, to be based in Fort Meade in Maryland, will be part of the US Strategic Command - currently responsible for securing the US military's networks - and will work alongside the US Department of Homeland Security.

It is thought the new department would open in October and be at full strength in 2010.

Self defence

A separate document, from the US Air Force's chief information officer Lt Gen William Shelton, said the US relies heavily on industry efforts to respond to cyber threats which, he says, "does not keep pace with the threat".

US Airman and computer control panel
The proposed digital warfare force would be based in Maryland

Peter Wood, operations chief with First Base Technologies and an expert in cyber-warfare, said that the US were entirely within their rights to protect themselves.

"My own view is that the only way to counteract both criminal and espionage activity online is to be proactive. If the US is taking a formal approach to this, then that has to be a good thing.

"The Chinese are viewed as the source of a great many attacks on western infrastructure and, just recently, the US national grid. If that is determined to be an organised attack, I would want to go and take down the source of those attacks," he said.

"The only problem is that the internet - by its very nature - has no borders and if the US takes on the mantle of the world's police; that might not go down so well."

The submissions to the House Armed Services subcommittee comes a few days after the National Research Council - part of the United States National Academy of Sciences - said that current US policies on cyber warfare are "ill-formed, lack adequate oversight and require a broad public debate".

The report went on to say that the "undeveloped and uncertain nature" of the US governments cyber warfare policies could lead to them being misused in a possible crisis.

The US administration is due imminently to publish the results of a 60-day review on cyber-security ordered by President Obama.

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