Army needs civilians to fight escalating cyberwar

The U.S. Army, in a move designed to attract talent cyber security professionals, will create a special civilian division according to a report released this week.

To better fill their ranks, “the Army created the Cyber Branch 17 [for Soldiers] and is exploring the possibility of creating a cyber career field for Army civilians,” Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon told senators.

Cardon, who is commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER), testified before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities during a hearing on April 14.

Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon delivers testimony to a senate subcommittee [photo courtesy of CSPAN]

Establishing a cyber career path for civilians will be easier than recruiting enough of them to fill the Army’s needs and also assist in retaining that talent, he said.

The poorly defined nature of cyber warfare rules and the multitude of state actors engaging in cyber warfare means demand for talented information security professionals is at an all time high for the Army. Countries like North Korea, Syria and Malaysia are investing significant sums into cyber armies, recognizing that they can never create effective physical armies and air forces on their limited budgets. Terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda are other foes which the United States must defend itself against.

Cyberwarfare capabilities are not just being developed by small countries. The most notable threats come from countries with large standing armies like Russia and China. China’s Unit 61398 carried out attacks against American companies for years until they were exposed in a 60 page report by security firm Mandiant in early 2013. There are many such units operating in China and Russia and Army commanders are keenly aware of the need to counter such threats.

Recruiting and retaining Army civilian cyber talent “is challenging,” Cardon said, “given internal federal employment constraints regarding compensation and a comparatively slow hiring process.”

Current programs to attract and retain top civilian talent include “extensive marketing efforts, and leveraging existing programs and initiatives run by the National Security Agency, Office of Personnel Management, and National Science Foundation,” he said.

He also said that the “targeted and enhanced use of recruiting, relocation and retention bonuses, and repayment of student loans will improve efforts to attract, develop and retain an effective cyber civilian workforce. These authorities exist but require consistent and predictable, long-term funding.”

The General’s last comments underscore the need for political cooperation in Washington if America is to retain its dominant military position. Threats of sequestration and continued defence budget cuts limit the military’s ability to create new capabilities to deal with emerging threats like cyberwarfare.