US Cyber Command in 'fivefold' staff expansion

Defence Secretary Panetta warns in November of a "cyber Pearl Harbour"

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The Pentagon will dramatically increase its cyber-security staff to counter threats against US government computer networks, according to media reports.

US Cyber Command, established three years ago, could grow as much as fivefold over the next few years.

The planned expansion comes amid a series of successful attacks, including a virus that wiped data from 30,000 computers at a Saudi oil firm.

Cyber Command currently has 900 staff members, both military and civilian.

Defence officials told the Washington Post, which first reported the staff increase, that the Pentagon had approved an expansion to 4,900 troops and civilians.

Another official told Reuters news agency that the force would be expanded significantly, though details were still being worked out.

The expansion comes at a time when the US military is balancing decreased budgets and a shift towards Asia and the Pacific.

According to reports, the plan calls for creating three types of forces under the Cyber Command: protecting computer systems that involve electrical grids and other kinds of infrastructure, offensive operations overseas as well as protection of the defence department's internal systems.

Outgoing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has previously stressed the importance of the Pentagon's cyber-security efforts.

"We've got good people that are involved in it, but, very frankly," he said in November speech at a defence think tank, "if we're going to stay on the cutting edge of what's happening with regards to the changes that are occurring, we have got to invest more in that area."

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