2019 Government Innovation Awards

Better cybersecurity through high-performance computing

Since fiscal 2017, the Defense Department’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program has been exploring the applicability and utility of DOD’s HPC resources in the cyberspace domain.

High Performance Computing Architecture for Cyber Situational Awareness

High Performance Computing Modernization Program, Department of Defense

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The program provides such resources via the HPC Architecture for Cyber Situational Awareness (HACSAW), which uses cyber data from across DOD’s information networks but especially the Defense Research and Engineering Network.

“HACSAW is designed to ultimately leverage HPC resources to significantly reduce the time to respond to changes in the cyber environment from months and days down to minutes,” said Leslie Leonard, a computer scientist at the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center. HACSAW’s success could catapult DOD into next-generation cybersecurity capabilities, she added.

The program uses proven open-source technologies — including Apache Kafka, Apache Spark, Elasticsearch, Kibana and Jupyter Notebook — and has focused from the beginning on a purpose-built architecture and processing pipeline to reduce barriers to using real-world data in developing advanced analytics.

The effort kicked into another gear in fiscal 2019, when HACSAW’s high-value dataset began powering the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Cyber-Hunting at Scale Program. DOD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is also innovating around HACSAW, particularly with the national mission initiative on cyber sensemaking.

Leonard credited Krisa Rowland, the modernization program’s associate director for security, for much of the recent progress. Rowland helped secure some $25 million in funding for the program, but more importantly, “she’s a connector,” Leonard said. “She knows how to bring people together in and out of DOD.”

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