US Cyber Command launched 22 overseas ‘hunt forward’ missions in 2023

These missions led to public releases of more than 90 malware samples, the the command’s chief stated.

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In 2023, the US Cyber Command significantly broadened the operational scope of its Cyber National Mission Forces (CNMF), an elite cyberwarfare unit, engaging in 22 missions across 17 different countries to identify and neutralise malicious software. Air Force Gen. Timothy Haugh, who serves as the commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency (NSA), confirmed this in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hunt forward operations, initiated in 2018, have often been kept deliberately vague due to concerns from host nations about revealing US involvement in securing their networks, which could inadvertently expose vulnerabilities to adversaries. For instance, in September of last year, CNMF reported 50 deployments, spanning over 75 networks in 23 countries. However, specific figures for 2023 and preceding years remained undisclosed.

Haugh highlighted the significance of these missions, noting that they collected over 90 malware samples, subsequently shared with the broader cybersecurity community. Such transparency, he asserted, makes ‘billions of Internet users around the world safer on-line, and frustrates the military and
intelligence operations of authoritarian regimes’.

Moreover, Haugh said that 2023 marked a milestone for Cyber Command, with hunt forward operations occurring concurrently across all geographic combatant commands of the Defense Department. He also reassured lawmakers of the agencies’ commitment to safeguarding the electoral integrity in 2024, emphasizing their non-partisan approach and respect for privacy and civil liberties.