Users can be weakest links in cybersecurity infrastructure

Securing the Defense Department's networks from attacks will require wide ranging changes to military culture, conduct and capabilities, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Strategic Command.

The users of the networks "are making it too easy for our adversaries" to exploit weaknesses, he said before a conference on cybersecurity sponsored by Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association International.

“We know we don’t have the answers and oftentimes don’t even know what the right questions are to ask,” he said.

The military still does not have a good grasp of which machines are connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, a classified DOD intranet, Chilton said. There’s no comprehensive situational awareness of network status and incident response requires more real-time automatic intervention than exists today, he added. A culture of treating information technology as a convenience rather than an essential platform persists, despite the fact that local vulnerabilities can create global effects.

“People think that the rules don’t apply to them, for whatever reason," he said. "There are adversaries today out there who are taking advantage of that misbehavior and that lack of discipline.”

DOD doesn’t have the wherewithal to respond to every security breach at once, said Army Brig. Gen. John Davis, deputy director of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations. “There’s never enough resources to go around and solve every problem, everywhere.” JTF-GNO spent $100 million over the past six months responding to incidents, he added.

“Everything is connected. Some things are more immediately connected than others. That’s where we tend to focus our priorities,” he said.

At least some of that cost could have been avoided if network users took their own role in security more seriously, he said. Chilton said there will be no change to a DOD policy started last year forbids using thumb drives and other portable memory tools on military networks.

External security attacks on military networks number in the thousands per day and originate from individual hackers, “all the way up to the sophisticated nation-state, with some pretty good criminal elements sandwiched in between,” Chilton said.

Some states — notably, China — believe in exploiting military reliance on IT as a combat tactic. Strategic Command, in conjunction with Pacific Command, will attempt to hold direct talks with the Chinese military over cybersecurity issues, Chilton said. “I believe strongly in [military-to-military] dialogues, not only in cybersecurity,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has not given up on its intent to establish a cybersecurity command, Chilton said. That plan has been in place since late 2007.

About the Authors

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.


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