Maryann Lawlor


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Maryann Lawlor
Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.

But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.

Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.

My Recent Content:

Collaboration Can Curb Adversarial Threats
April 17, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
As a weapon, private-public partnerships demonstrate strength in numbers.
  • Rear Adm. Christian Becker, USN, commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), discusses the defense industry’s role executing the Chief of Naval Operations “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” during a combined AFCEA and NDIA event. SPAWAR works closely with industry to provide the tactical networks, space systems and C4ISR technology assets and services U.S. Navy fleet operators require. U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt/Released
     Rear Adm. Christian Becker, USN, commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), discusses the defense industry’s role executing the Chief of Naval Operations “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0” during a combined AFCEA and NDIA event. SPAWAR works closely with industry to provide the tactical networks, space systems and C4ISR technology assets and services U.S. Navy fleet operators require. U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt/Released
  • While on active duty as deputy commandant of mission support for the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, USCG (Ret.), spoke with attendees at the 2017 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference. Photo by Mike Carpenter
     While on active duty as deputy commandant of mission support for the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, USCG (Ret.), spoke with attendees at the 2017 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference. Photo by Mike Carpenter
  • Conferences offer members of the private and public sectors to meet face-to-face to discuss opportunities and solutions while building trust. Photo by Mike Carpenter
     Conferences offer members of the private and public sectors to meet face-to-face to discuss opportunities and solutions while building trust. Photo by Mike Carpenter

Threats to U.S. homeland security are more numerous, more complex and evolving more rapidly. This accelerated threat environment is enabled in great part by emerging technology that has emboldened adversaries to doggedly evade defensive barriers.

Defeating these hostile threat attempts depends on building effective private-public partnerships, says John M. Kreger, vice president, public sector programs, Center for Programs and Technology, The MITRE Corporation. “Successful private-public partnerships can enhance the technological impact and achieve efficiencies to help further our homeland security mission,” he states.

Kreger explains connections must be established not only between organizations but also across agencies, states and critical infrastructure owners and operators. Sharing information will ensure the coordination of threat-related advisories and materials that are designed to safeguard critical sectors and infrastructure, he relates.

“To foster private-public partnerships, we [first] need to work together and overcome obstacles such as regulatory and policy constraints as well as challenging contract and procurement requirements,” he says.

One reason quick coordination among organizations is crucial is that, like allies, adversaries are increasingly using emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning as part of their strategies and subversive attacks.

For example, deepfake creates realistic depictions of situations that never occurred by employing deep learning algorithms and almost seamlessly mapping target images, video or audio content into other media content, Kreger observes. “For example, threat actors could map real digital facial portraits or video of one person onto a person in another image or video and, voice mimicking the original person, attribute a fake message from a reliable, credible source,” he says.

To combat these types of misuse of emerging capabilities, organizations that link homeland security stakeholders to create effective alliances can increase and improve the quality of information sharing.

More information about how adversaries are employing the latest technologies to threaten homeland security will be discussed at the 2019 AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

Departments: 
Link 16 Hits the Ground Running
April 17, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Next-generation terminals put communication power in warfighters’ hands.
  • Ground operations are the new frontier for Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more time receiving transmissions from platforms such as aircraft. Credit: ViaSat
     Ground operations are the new frontier for Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more time receiving transmissions from platforms such as aircraft. Credit: ViaSat

Communications requirements are changing in tandem with new modes of military battlefield requirements. Until a few years ago, voice had been the predominant communications medium. Variable message format messages were adopted as the digitally aided close air support standard, however even with a concerted effort by the U.S. Defense Department to standardize requirements, there continues to be longstanding issues with interoperability, including significant loss of key data and slow refresh rates. 


Today’s Link 16 networks typically support theaterwide engagements with situational awareness, command and control, and information exchange requirements (IERs) across the entire area of operations. It is this flexibility to meet the changing operational needs of the battlefield that has maintained its viability over the past 40 years.

The adoption of capability in so many emerging use cases is not accidental. It reflects the Link 16 community’s evolving understanding of the modern battlefield.

For instance, air-to-ground operations are being looked at in an entirely new way and opening up more uses for Link 16 with the latest enhancements that address the needs of warfighters on the ground. Unlike a pilot who can see or communicate with other aircraft up to hundreds of miles away, the Earth’s curvature and the local terrain limit dismounted ground forces’ ability to communicate. The distance and speed at which they maneuver impacts their IERs, including how often their position must be updated.

Dismounted ground operations are the new frontier for the next generation of Link 16 systems. Unlike their larger airborne and naval predecessors, these nodes spend more of their time receiving transmissions from other platforms such as aircraft than transmitting themselves.

One of the challenges for operating in a ground or ground-to-air environment is signal clutter and interference. However, the particular band that Link 16 radios use is not cluttered with other battlefield users and is occupied by civilian air traffic navigation systems.

In addition, the inherent security characteristics of Link 16 can help with localized IERs. The anti-jamming frequency-hopping patterns, called Net Numbers, that Link 16 terminals use can be selected and employed to keep IERs separated, enabling the capability to support up to 127 separate nets.

The terminals also secure the information being transmitted. Different cryptographic keys and partitioned variable modes can isolate data while allowing for range extending relay. Timeslot reassignment pools can be designed to adapt to usage requirements, while contention pools can be employed for an information span that is geographically smaller.

While some experts believe Link 16 networks are oversubscribed, and this is often true for the theaterwide net, there are more than 100 available frequency pattern nets that typically are completely open. Further, like cellular or satellite communications systems, bandwidth can be divided and shared across a theater.

As a result, a small ground unit can set up using a frequency pattern for its communications or Link 16 system. Tens of miles away, another unit can set up its net, and the two nets will not interfere with each other. This is one network management option the U.S. Defense Department is now examining to support ground communications during operations.

The new capabilities that are being delivered by the next generation of Link 16 terminals, combined with the expansion of Link 16 into new domains, allow Link 16 to be available for integration into new types of platforms and nodes that will be entering service in the coming years. The tactical data link, which demonstrated its flexibility to meet the changing operational needs of the battlefield, is now directly in the hands of warfighters at the tactical edge.

More details about next-generation Link 16 terminals are available in the SIGNAL Resource Library.

Departments: 
NSA Releases the Dragon
April 8, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Agency looks forward to contributions from the Ghidra community.
  • The Ghidra tool suite examines compiled code using disassembly, decompilation and graphing.
     The Ghidra tool suite examines compiled code using disassembly, decompilation and graphing.

The National Security Agency is now sharing the source code of Ghidra, its reverse engineering tool developed by the agency’s Research Directorate in support of its cybersecurity mission. Ghidra, a suite of software analysis tools, examines complied code using capabilities such as disassembly, assembly, decompilation, graphing and scripting.

Ghidra helps analyze malicious code and malware and improves cybersecurity professionals’ understanding of potential vulnerabilities in their networks and systems. With this release, developers can now collaborate, create patches and extend the tool to fit their cybersecurity needs.

The source code repository contains instructions about how to build on all support platforms, including Window, Mac OS and Linux. In addition, users may develop their own Ghidra plug-in components and scripts using the exposed application program interface.

The software tools suite supports a variety of processor instruction sets and executable formats and can run in both user-interactive and automated modes.

The source code is available for download along with the 9.0.2 patch.

Departments: 
Prepping for Next-Generation Governmentwide Acquisition Contract
April 2, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Small businesses need to look within prior to competing.
  • The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency that manages and supports federal agencies. Credit: Shutterstock
     The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency that manages and supports federal agencies. Credit: Shutterstock
  • Governmentwide acquisition contracts are one vehicle the GSA uses to facilitate purchases from numerous companies. The current GWAC hosts more than $1.5 billion per year in orders. Credit: Shutterstock
     Governmentwide acquisition contracts are one vehicle the GSA uses to facilitate purchases from numerous companies. The current GWAC hosts more than $1.5 billion per year in orders. Credit: Shutterstock

The General Services Administration’s current 8(a) STARS II, a small business set-aside governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), expires in July 2021, and acquisition experts believe the competition for the follow-on contract should begin this year to avoid a lapse in ordering periods.

“Because there will be hundreds of bids to evaluate and there may be protests, the GSA should issue the request for proposal for 8(a) STARS III by July 2019 in order to ensure that there’s no break between STARS II and STARS III,” says Stephanie Mitchell, a U.S. Defense Department and federal government acquisition specialist with BD Squared LLC.

The Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services II, or STARS II GWAC, is a competitively awarded, multi-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract. It provides federal agencies with the latest information technology services-based solutions from 8(a) small businesses and enables them to access these firms through an established contract vehicle.

Because STARS II was created exclusively for 8(a) contractors participation, the entire GWAC was accepted into the 8(a) program. The Small Business Administration has verified that all industry partners are 8(a) eligible prior to a GWAC award, eliminating the need to be individually offered and accepted into the 8(a) program for each new purchase.

“8(a) STARS II has been an entry-level vehicle for many of the fastest growing, most successful federal IT industry partners in operation today,” Mitchell says. “Many of the biggest names in federal IT got their start on 8(a) STARS II.

“STARS III will give the next generation of rising stars a place to launch their growth strategies in the federal market,” she adds. “Many companies will get their first prime orders on STARS III, which can then set them up to successfully bid on Alliant and OASIS five years from now.”

The current GWAC hosts more than $1.5 billion per year in orders from more than 55 departments and agencies. The follow-on contract will build on that success by giving federal agencies access to 8(a) partners with a range of IT services capabilities, Mitchell says.

Services offered on the current contract include software and programming products and services; systems that integrate computer hardware, software and communications technologies; on-site management and operation of clients’ computer systems and data processing facilities; and computer-related services.

Mitchell contends the GSA would benefit from commercial sector input before it issues the STARS III request for proposal (RFP). “We really need to see a strong spirit of cooperation and communication to avoid the mistakes that so commonly delay major contract vehicles. In particular, the government needs to involve industry strongly in the draft RFP process,” she says. “Industry, for its part, needs to use that draft process to air its concerns rather than waiting until after the RFP is posted.”

In addition to industry making its voice heard ahead of the RFP release, Mitchell says companies should prepare for contract competition. “If we've learned anything from the last two large GSA proposal efforts it's that [the companies’] internal files need to be clean. You need to know where all your contract, certification and past performance documentation is, and it needs to be organized. If you wait until the RFP drops, you will spend your precious proposal time hunting down documentation,” she states.

Mitchell and Brian Friel, founder, BD Squared, will provide additional tips and tricks for precompetition corporate internal prep work at the AFCEA Procurement Series 8(a) STARS III networking event beginning at 4 p.m. on April 30 in McLean, Virginia.

Experts Explore Mystery of Security Metrics
April 1, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Cyber specialists attempt to make sense out of a modern-day Tower of Babel.
  • System and information security can be measured in a number of ways, including how it affects the bottom line. Credit: Shutterstock
     System and information security can be measured in a number of ways, including how it affects the bottom line. Credit: Shutterstock
  • The AFCEA Cyber Committee shares how organizations struggle to measure the strength of their systems security.
     The AFCEA Cyber Committee shares how organizations struggle to measure the strength of their systems security.
  • Security metrics are part of determining the amount of risk an organization is willing to take. Credit: Shutterstock
     Security metrics are part of determining the amount of risk an organization is willing to take. Credit: Shutterstock

Senior executives are increasingly interested in objective measurements to determine the robustness of their organizations’ cybersecurity protections. However, measuring the adequacy of network and data security can be likened to verifying the amount of air in a room: A formula can ascertain how much air the room contains in theory, but does it take into account the leaky windows?

The AFCEA Cyber Committee examined the security metrics topic for two years, during which time it sent two surveys to association member organizations requesting input about the security metrics they use. The results were surprisingly poor and yielded no useful data, which led committee members to explore if many organizations were struggling to define appropriate measures to assess their security posture.

To try to get a better handle on what organizations were doing in the area of cyber metrics, the committee decided to reach out to a handful of organizations respected for their cybersecurity programs. From these interviews, it became apparent that the term security metrics has different meanings to different organizations.

After analyzing the interview results, it also became clear that one of the fundamental problems in identifying security metrics is the lack of a broadly accepted definition of what they comprise. In addition, even organizations with relatively mature cybersecurity programs and robust security metrics were struggling to find the right way to communicate the organizations’ state of security to their boards of directors or senior executives, committee members agreed.

The interview results also showed that organizations often have very different security metrics programs and were more a Tower of Babel than had been initially apparent. The committee found that, regardless of the taxonomy adopted, organizations were all ultimately striving to be in a position to assess the risk of accomplishing the overall mission of the organization. It also became apparent that there was a logical maturing process for organizations as they strove to define security metrics that could accurately portray an organization’s overall security posture.

To determine if security metrics guidance existed that could help these organizations, committee members reviewed several publicly available compendiums, including NIST’s Special Performance Measurement Guide for Information Security and the Center for Internet Security’s The CIS Security Metrics. They concurred that while these documents might not solve the conundrum of designing security metrics, they do offer ideas about the best way to go about improving information security.

Among the commonalities in these guides was the need for security metrics to be tied to specific objectives. For example, an organization can assess the robustness of its security wellness based on the financial risk to the company or agency if systems are compromised.

Committee members also agreed that, for better or worse, what gets measured gets attention and can improve; security metrics should inform decisions; and security metrics by themselves do not provide a good overall measure of the security of an organization at a point in time.

Several organizations interviewed described their security metrics effort as aligning their security metrics with mission risks. These organizations typically had implemented a set of technical compliance security measures and, in some cases the technical measures were quite extensive. However, senior management could not conclude from the technical metrics if their organizations’ security posture was sufficiently robust to meet the organizations’ overall objectives, or if the return on investment of additional resources in cybersecurity was appropriate.

The goal for these organizations then became to identify those security metrics that were most important to understanding and evaluating risks to the ability to perform their missions or their strategic objectives. Once defined, these risk-based metrics were tracked and regularly reported to senior management.

While the U.S. Defense Department’s eventual goal is to define a set of security metrics for measuring the risk to executing warfighting and humanitarian missions in an environment of increasing cyber attacks, for other organizations, the potential for significant financial loss, an amount that differs for each company; the inability to meet customer expectations; or the consequence of reputational damage from a major cyber incident were used to help identify the acceptable amount of risk to their organizations.

More of the AFCEA Cyber Committee's conclusions as well as recommendations for designing security metrics are available in the SIGNAL Resource Library online.

Departments: 

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