• Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, walks among the audience as he gives Monday’s keynote luncheon address during TechNet Asia-Pacific 2015.
     Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, walks among the audience as he gives Monday’s keynote luncheon address during TechNet Asia-Pacific 2015.

However Vast a Region, Cyber Dominates

November 18, 2015
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

The map of Asia-Pacific challenges leads to the digital realm.

TechNet Asia-Pacific 2015

The SIGNAL Magazine Online Show Daily, Day 1

Quote of the Day:

“If you’re not resilient in communications, you’re not relevant.”—Rear Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, USN, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet

New issues continue to emerge, vexing U.S. attempts to maintain peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Regional disputes grow in complexity and severity; quiescent rivalries begin to reassert their hostile nature; and violations of international law increase in defiance of rules and standards. Overlaying these issues is the realm of cyberspace, where nation-states and hackers alike pose significant threats that must be addressed to meet the challenges of the vast region.

These were some of the issues discussed on the first day of TechNet Asia-Pacific 2015, being held in Honolulu, November 17-19. Built around the theme of Fight to Communicate: Operating in a Communications-Degraded Environment, the conference also addressed how politics and processors are vying for pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific theater.

U.S. military operations in the Asia-Pacific region may face the threat of reduced or eliminated communications and networking, observed the deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Addressing the conference theme, Rear Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, USN, told the keynote luncheon audience the force needs to continue operations if communications break down.

The remedy may be more doctrinal than technological. The key to success in a degraded environment is commander’s intent, he said. Commanding officers must be able to continue making decisions if communications are degraded. This will require warfighters to know what the commander’s goals are and carry them out without direct command.

Some technology will help get around the problem. But the admiral offered that solutions must be easily fielded and fixed and upgraded quickly.

“If you’re not resilient, you’re not relevant,” he stated.

And the cyberspace threat already is active, declared Maj. Gen. Dave Bryan, USA (Ret.), president and CEO, Bryan Business Management and Technology LLC. “We’re at war in cyberspace, and this has been a hard lesson to learn,” he emphasized. He added that the threat lies not to network access or the network itself, but to the data. “It’s the database, stupid,” he said, adopting the political campaign analogy. “Look for the technologies coming out that protect the database.”

Adm. Dick Macke, USN (Ret.), former commander, U.S. Pacific Command, offered deductive reasoning to set a high priority for cyberspace. “Cyber equals C2 [command and control], C2 equals victory. Therefore, victory needs cyber,” he stated. Adm. Macke called for the ability to beat the enemy at its own game. “We’re going to be attacked, and we are going to lose some part of our C2,” he warned. “I’m a warfighter, and I want rules of engagement that allow me to attack [cyber] before I have to defend.”

Adm. Archie Clemins, USN (Ret.), former commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the country is not framing the cyber war properly. It is not just a military problem, but also a national problem. He decried the focus on technology solutions, saying they always will be out of date and take years to implement. Instead, he said, “We have to create a cyber work force that is better than our adversaries.”

The nature of the dual threat in cyberspace was put into perspective by Jodi-Ann Ito, information security officer, University of Hawaii. She described how the security measures her university community is taking apply well to government and military activities.

“At the end of the day, we are being attacked constantly, every one of us,” Ito pointed out. “And, they are attacking not just end devices or servers, but also that layer in between.”

Ito warned about sophisticated phishing measures that are popping up with greater frequency. One approach is to exploit a successful phishing operation several days after its execution. That way, the compromised target does not realize it has been victimized, by which time the phisher has erased all traces of entry.

Ito allowed that cybermarauders are maintaining the lead in the battle over cybersecurity, but network experts are narrowing the gap as they implement new measures designed to prevent hackers from carrying out unmitigated attacks. Many of these measures involve basic cyber hygiene practices, while others take advantage of new technology capabilities.

New targets are emerging for hackers and governments, she continued. Vulnerable medical records are the latest target for profitable hacking activities. Ito noted that hackers can use medical information for a host of reasons for a long period of time without fear of detection. She urged individuals to review their medical insurance statements in the same manner that they review credit card statements. Ultimately, this fraud could have broad ramifications, especially among organizations. “If you don’t have a good cybersecurity program, your insurance rates will go up,” she warned.

Ito sounded a separate alarm about the Internet of Things (IoT). Its ubiquity may prove to be a major enabler of cybermarauders, she pointed out. Hackers can break into an automobile's GPS and track drivers’ movements. With some camera-equipped televisions, hackers can break into the device, activate the camera and microphone and watch the goings-on in a person’s house. This only will worsen as the IoT becomes more prevalent.

“For the life of me, I do not understand why my refrigerator has to be connected to the Internet,” Ito declared.

Viewing the Pacific Command (PACOM) area of responsibility strategically. Adm. Sawyer noted longtime allies are becoming closer, new allies are emerging and some relationships have soured among the dozens of nations comprising the Asia-Pacific region. Among the improved relations are those between the United States and India. The admiral noted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt recently took part in the Indian Navy exercise Malabar along with ships from Japan. Most exercises in the region are bilateral, so having one with more than two countries was significant, he pointed out.

And Japan recently upgraded its defense posture in a change that replaces a 65-year doctrine. Adm. Sawyer described this change as “an amazing story,” and it will help the United States maintain Asia-Pacific peace and security. The admiral also cited the importance of the Republic of Korea and Australia, calling the southern hemisphere country “one of our anchors of peace and stability.”

China remains a major player in the region, and Adm. Sawyer declared that the fleet has “a committed relationship with the PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy].” He said the fleet must continue this dialogue, adding, “We don’t do policy; we don’t want to cause tactical miscalculations.”

On the negative side, relations with Russia have declined in the wake of Russian military actions elsewhere. Noting that Russia has a Pacific Ocean presence—including a huge submarine force—Adm. Sawyer lamented that “Russia’s actions have caused us to curb our mil-to-mil [military-to-military] relations.”

For the Pacific Fleet, the array of challenges it faces demands readiness, he said, emphasizing “Rules, standards, norms and laws are the key to Pacific peace and security.”

On Day 2 of TechNet Asia-Pacific 2015: An address by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, USA, commander, U.S. Army Pacific; two panels featuring PACOM J-3 and J-5 issues; and a leadership panel. For complete coverage, follow #AFCEATechNet on Twitter and visit our coverage page.



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