Like military counterparts around the world, the German armed forces must urgently compete with the private sector to attract the Internet's best and brightest.
MUNICH — It's hard to ignore. About 18,000 billboards, along with advertisements on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, are promoting "cyber" positions in Germany's Defense Ministry.
"Defend Germany's freedom in cyberspace," the campaign's slogan reads. "Do something that really matters." The message is accompanied by the army's logo and motto, "project digital forces."
The marketing campaign represents the German army's must public attempt to ready itself for one of the biggest security threats, both present and future. By its own account, military developers have eliminated about 7,200 kinds of malware over the past year and identified about 71 million "unauthorized and malicious access attempts" at central Internet exchange points. About 8.5 million of them have been qualified as "very dangerous." And the threats coming from cyber attacks could be directed at private or public infrastructure, hospitals and even energy supplies.
That's why Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is creating a cyber team dedicated to preparing the army for a cyber war. The government wants to bundle all cyber expertise and build a separate military organization, similar to the standing army, air force or medical service. It comes as other countries, including the United States, are shifting resources to digital combat.
According to insiders, Germany's dedicated "cyber/IT department" will exist inside the Ministry of Defense. The ministry declined comment, saying that the planning process has not yet been finalized.
It's clear that the idea isn't to build an entirely new team from scratch but instead to centralize one dedicated team whose expertise right now are distributed across the military with some 21,000 IT positions. With its large-scale recruitment campaign, the ministry is looking for experts to fill 1,500 vacancies, among them 800 "IT soldiers" and some 700 military or civil positions as IT administrators. That puts the Defense Ministry in competition with the free market, where positions of this kind command very competitive salaries.
The ministry's recruitment campaign has been the target of criticism, as some wonder why the IT positions that already exist can't simply be left where they are within the military organizations. Critics say regrouping them simply allows von der Leyen to advertise towards the private sector. The ministry, on the other hand, argues that that expertise has been too fragmented, weakening its effectiveness and power.
"The army does have valuable competencies in IT technology, but they are scattered from an organizational point of view," she said last year, when the campaign began. "We need to bring them under one roof in order to reinforce them."
When it comes to cyber challenges, there are two particular concerns for the military. "First of all, cyber space has become a fixed component of conventional operations and therefore represents its own dimension — just like land, air, sea and space," the minister says. The team is becoming an "interconnected and increasingly digitized major organization" that has to protect itself.
For now, most of the talk about the new team revolves around defense and protection. What we don't know is whether, much more quietly, plans are underway to also use all the high-tech personnel to launch their own cyber attacks.