The Internet: Conduit or Content?

August 14, 2012
By Max Cacas

When it comes to cybersecurity, how do you distinguish the routers, switches and other equipment that make up the "network of networks" from kitten videos, blogs and company websites that make up the content found on the internet?

The answer to that question, as difficult as it might be to answer in a straightforward way, was the subject of the first panel discussion at the TechNet Land Forces East Conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Rear Admiral David Simpson, USN, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), said its an important question to ask in a time of declining budgets, and a rising expectation that the Defense Department will play a part in defending the nation's infrastructure from cyberattack.

Brian Rexroad from AT&T Security said that one of the main challenges is that the Internet protocol network was designed to efficiently deliver digital packets of information.  To get it to do anything else in a security context requires that it be configured differently to perform that task.

Michael Glenn, director of Enterprise Security with Century Link, noted the additional challenge that information technology officials are only now coming to grips with the threat posed by cyberattacks and the risks business face when it comes to the loss of intellectual property because of those attacks.

Adm. Simpson, trying to use a popular metaphor for the Internet, asked if it was still an untamed, lawless "Wild, Wild West" or has the network evolved into a community with a mayor and law-abiding citizens?

Rexroad responded that a better metaphor for the secure areas of the Internet that are behind virtual private networks would be "gated communities" where companies are able to engage in commerce in relative safety, at least until the "gates" are compromised in a cyberattack.

Brig. Gen. George Franz III, USA, director of current operations at U.S. Cyber Command, said it is important to be able to develop the means to "see" down the circuits of the Internet to actively defend the network from cyberattacks on conduits and content.

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