Gen Paul Nakasone's article, "A Cyber Force for Persistent Operations," in the January 2019 edition of Joint Forces Quarterly, describes an important new strategy adopted by USCYBERCOM. After its first nine years of focusing on cyber defense as a "response force," Gen Nakasone is now moving USCYBERCOM to a "persistence force." This means that U.S. cyber forces, in addition to providing cyber defense for the Department of Defense and military components, will now confront adversarial forces in cyberspace, "...to take this fight to the enemy, just as we do in other aspects of conflict." This change in strategy is consistent with the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy and is a major shift in the character of U.S. cyber operations.
The implications of USCYBERCOM's new approach are enormous. U.S. cyber warriors will now become much more active in seeking opportunities to engage adversaries in cyberspace before they can attack the U.S. These engagements will remain "below the level of armed attack," and mirror similar actions by adversarial nations who have learned that cyber conflict is an effective tool to compete with the United States and to achieve their goals without resorting to actual war.
Another noteworthy component of the new strategy is that USCYBERCOM is building partnerships with U.S. critical infrastructure entities that are the likely targets of adversarial cyber activities. These partnerships will help stop attackers before they can conflict serious damage on the financial, energy, transportation and other critical infrastructure sectors, and will aid in building resilience efforts to recover more quickly after an attack.
The move to "continuous, persistent operations" embodied in USCYBERCOM's new strategy will have an impact on the organization and personnel. Gen Nakasone points out that USCYBERCOM is "maturing as a combatant command with the teams, infrastructure, tools, accesses, and authorities ready to execute missions." He rightly points out that the new approach to U.S. cyber operations will help instill confidence in government leaders and the general public about USCYBERCOM's capabilities. Left unsaid but equally true is that more robust and persistent cyber operations will give the United States an effective cyber deterrence capability that has been lacking for too long.
The above summary was provided by Dr. Terry Thompson. Dr. Thompson is an Adjunct Instructor in Cybersecurity at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is an NCMF member and regular contributor to the NCMF blog.