U.S. is mak­ing a cy­ber de­fense push

Pen­tagon is reach­ing out to Sil­i­con Val­ley firms to build ‘the force of the fu­ture.’

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By W.J. Hen­ni­gan

WASH­ING­TON — De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter will un­veil a new mil­i­tary cy­ber­strat­egy Thurs­day in the heart of Sil­i­con Val­ley, reach­ing out to Face­book Inc. and other com­pa­nies to help boost the na­tion’s dig­i­tal de­fenses.

The two-day visit un­der­scores a long-de­layed shift in Pen­tagon pri­or­i­ties to rec­og­niz­ing cy­ber­at­tacks on gov­ern­ment agen­cies, ma­jor com­pa­nies and cru­cial in­fra­struc­ture as a ma­jor threat to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity.

Carter’s visit to Sil­i­con Val­ley is the first by a Pen­tagon chief since the mid-1990s when the In­ter­net was in its in­fancy, Wi-Fi and smartphones didn’t ex­ist and Amer­ica’s dig­i­tal dom­i­nance was un­ques­tioned.

In a speech at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, Carter will an­nounce an ef­fort to re­cruit com­puter en­gi­neers, pro­gram­mers and oth­ers to help the Pen­tagon build “the force of the fu­ture.”

“Some of the re­servists we will re­cruit to this unit have al­ready funded and sold mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies,” said a se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial who briefed re­porters but was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

Carter plans to visit Face­book’s sprawl­ing cam­pus in Menlo Park, Calif., to make his pitch. He also will meet with other tech in­dus­try lead­ers, en­gi­neers and ven­ture cap­i­tal groups that find and fund the val­ley’s star­tups.

A decade and a half af­ter the CIA be­gan back­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies that de­velop sur­veil­lance sys­tems, en­cryp­tion tools and other spy­ing tech­nol­ogy, Carter will an­nounce a sim­i­lar ef­fort to iden­tify tech­nolo­gies with mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions.

The Pen­tagon will pro­vide seed money to In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit firm launched in 1999 to in­vest in high-tech com­pa­nies for U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Pen­tagon of­fi­cials said they have not yet determined how much to in­vest.

“Through this ar­range­ment, we will make in­vest­ments in early-stage tech­nolo­gies, such as nano-electrics, soft­ware and au­to­ma­tion,” the of­fi­cial said.

Carter, a physi­cist and for­mer vis­it­ing scholar at Stan­ford, warned of gaps in U.S. cy­berde­fenses long be­fore he took over the Pen­tagon in Fe­bru­ary. He also re­peat­edly lam­basted the Pen­tagon pro­cure­ment sys­tem for tak­ing too long to get use­ful tech­nol­ogy to the mil­i­tary.

“He wants to think out­side the Pen­tagon,” said an­other de­fense of­fi­cial, who also was not au­tho­rized to speak on the record. “So we’re not stuck in­side this five-sided box.”

Carter has an­other equally chal­leng­ing mission: He hopes to re­pair re­la­tions with Sil­i­con Val­ley that frac­tured in the Ed­ward Snow­den scan­dal.

Snow­den, a for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor, leaked doc­u­ments that showed the NSA — an in­tel­li­gence agency that is part of the Pen­tagon — se­cretly tapped data feeds at Face­book, Google Inc., Ya­hoo Inc. and other com­pa­nies.

The dis­clo­sures em­bar­rassed the tech com­pa­nies at home and abroad. Some have re­sponded by de­ploy­ing new en­cryp­tion tech­nol­ogy de­signed to tighten cus­tomers’ on­line se­cu­rity.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, mean­while, has stepped up ef­forts to bring pri­vate in­dus­try and the gov­ern­ment to­gether to com­bat cy­ber­at­tacks such as those that wreaked havoc at Sony Pic­tures, Bank of Amer­ica Corp., Tar­get Corp. and other U.S. com­pa­nies.

The White House an­nounced a fu­sion cen­ter to quickly share threat in­for­ma­tion, and the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity an­nounced plans this week to open a satel­lite of­fice in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

“The gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to bridge the gap be­tween Sil­i­con Val­ley and D.C. is huge,” said Peter W. Singer, a fel­low at the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion in Wash­ing­ton. “But there are a lot of chal­lenges. There is still a lot of anger there.”

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