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Air Force issues second call for network attack capabilities

The Air Force Electronic Systems Center on Tuesday asked for industry's help for the second time in three years in attacking and destroying enemies' computer networks.

The Electronic Systems Center said it needs industry to help develop ideas and technologies as well as corrupt or degrade information in an adversary's networks and information systems. According to the solicitation, potential bidders should suggest technologies that can map an enemy's computer network, provide access to that network, help the Air Force manipulate data in enemy information systems and launch denial-of-service attacks.

An ongoing series of studies and acquisitions at the center since the Air Force set up its Cyber Command last May shows the Defense Department is serious about going on the offensive in cyber space.

The solicitation marks a real change from the Pentagon's public comments on cybersecurity, which have focused primarily on defending constant attacks against its networks.

It is not the first time, however, that officials have suggested a more proactive approach. Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated such a cybersecurity strategy in 2007 when he was serving as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command.

At the time, Cartwright told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing that a purely defensive approach to network security was doomed to failure and "defense of the nation is better served by capabilities enabling us to take the fight to our adversaries."

The Jan. 19 announcement from the Electronic Systems Center follows up on a similar project that it launched in June 2007 and that runs through June 2010.

Col. David DeNofrio, head of the network systems unit at the Electronic Systems Center, told an industry briefing in January 2009 that the Electronic Systems Center had awarded five contracts worth $3.5 million on the 2007 contract. Contract winners included Sparta Inc., a small defense contractor located in Lake Forest, Calif., and the National Security Solutions division of BAE Systems.

The Electronic Systems Center also is conducting an ongoing solicitation for a Cyber Integration Environment for the Cyber Command and other information operation outfits in the San Antonio area, which include network attack and defense capabilities.

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