DOD building its own secure 4G wireless network

The Pentagon expects to have its own network up and running by next year, as part of its new push for better cybersecurity.

The Defense Department expects to have its own secure 4G wireless network up and running by the middle of next year, hosting a variety of iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

The network is part of DOD’s four-year, $23 billion dollar investment in cybersecurity, which also calls for hiring an additional 4,000 people for its cyber workforce, establishing common standards and improving coordination in investing and managing cyber resources, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent speech given at the Brookings Institution.

Dempsey said he had a secure mobile phone that “would make both Batman and James Bond jealous.”

Dempsey also spoke about creating a federal app store using off-the-shelf technology to “allow any DOD user to write and share phone and tablet apps.” On June 28, the Defense Information Systems Agency announced it awarded Digital Management, Inc. a $16 million contract to build the DOD's first enterprisewide mobile application store and mobile device management system.

The secure 4G network is part of the DOD’s Joint Information Environment initiative to consolidate its 15,000 networks into a cloud environment.

“The new Joint Information Environment will deepen collaboration across the services and mission areas. It will also be significantly more secure, helping ensure the integrity of our battle systems in the face of disruption,” said Dempsey.

A few news outlets, such as TechInvestorNews, speculated whether the network was a ploy by DOD to exclude itself from the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, since its calls would not go through Verizon or other commercial carriers from which NSA collects metadata.

But the network could also just be a sign of DOD recognizing the growing importance of mobile computing. The military has long had its own non-classified and classified IP networks — NIPRnet and SIPRnet. As it uses more smart phones and tablets, that approach to security is extending to mobile.

Since Dempsey was appointed chairman in 2011, critical infrastructure attacks have increased 17-fold, he said at Brookings, although he did not specify the exact number of attacks, nor how many occurred prior to his taking office.

“Cyber has escalated from an issue of moderate concern to one of the most serious threats to our national security,” he said. And in addition to military systems, securing civilian infrastructure and businesses, such as those in the banking, chemical, electrical, water and transport sectors, is vitally important.

“Although we have made significant progress embracing cyber within the military, our nation’s effort to protect civilian critical infrastructure is lagging,” Dempsey said. “Too few companies have invested adequately in cybersecurity.”

“One of the most important ways we can strengthen cybersecurity across the private sector is by sharing threat information. Right now, threat information primarily runs in one direction — from the government to operators of critical infrastructure. Very little information flows back to the government,” he said. “This must change. We can’t stop an attack we can’t see.”

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