The United States Marine Corps has activated a new Cyberspace Warfare Group (MCCYWG) with a mission to train and equip Marine Cyberspace mission teams to perform both defensive and offensive cyber operations in support of United States Cyber Command and Marine Forces Cyberspace Command.
Officially activated during a ceremony at Fort Meade, Maryland on Mar. 25, MCCYWG will “bring the Marine Corps into the realm of cyberspace,” defined by the Department of Defense (DoD) as as the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs.
“We’ve always had the means to communicate and the means to protect that communication, but today we’re in an environment where those methods are more and more reliant on a system of transmissions, routers and networks,” said Col. Ossen J. D’Haiti, the commanding officer of MCCYWG. “So, the ability to protect that, the ability to control that and deny an adversary to interdict that, is crucial to command and control.”
“Cyber operations as a whole are anything from ensuring your network is secure to home use like when you buy a router, set it up, set up passwords and encryptions,” said Sgt. Brian Mueller, a digital network exploitation analyst with MCCYWG.
“[Cyberspace operations] ensure that our systems are secure to stop hackers from getting into our systems where our personal identifiable information and everything else is stored,” Mueller added. “ While the offensive side is what can we do to hinder an enemy.”
While MCCYWG is currently active, the unit is not yet fully operational. Currently just a few cyberspace mission teams are up and running, the DoD says, but the unit is expected to be fully operational in fiscal year 2017. With the challenges around recruiting and training cyber warriors, this should not come as a surprise. The U.S. Cyber Command missed its original deadline to become fully operational back in 2010, and staffing for these positions has been an ongoing challenge for both government and private sector organizations.
“We’re still evolving, but I think five years from now, as the Marine Corps comes online and understands more and more what is happening in this space, the Cyberspace Warfare Group will look much different than it does today,” said D’Haiti.
The Marine Corps has roughly 182,000 active duty personnel and about 38,900 reserve Marines, making it the smallest of the U.S. armed forces within the U.S. Department of Defense.
Earlier this year, Cybercom commander and NSA chief Adm. Mike Rogers outlined U.S. Cyber Command’s strategic priorities for 2016. According to Rogers, the priorities include continued defense of DoD networks and systems, applying Cyber Mission Force capabilities more broadly and expanding international partnerships.
“One of the things we're working on across the department is how [to] create a culture where cyber hygiene and cyber security is every bit as foundational to you as an individual as if the department issued you a weapon,” Rogers said.
In March, the DoD invited hackers to "Hack the Pentagon" under a pilot bug bounty program that rewarded researchers for discovering weaknesses in the Pentagon's public web sites.