The Coast Guard Jumps Into the Cyber Sea
Two years’ experience at the U.S. Cyber Command has shaped U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Dermanelian’s perspective as he implements, as commander, the Coast Guard Cyber Command’s three main missions: (1) defending the Coast Guard’s portion of the Department of Defense Information Network, or DODIN; (2) protecting the maritime transportation sector; and (3) enabling cyber operations. The admiral is dual hatted as the assistant commandant for command, control, communications, computers and information technology/CG-6 as well as being the commander of the Coast Guard Cyber Command.
Similar to the other services, the Coast Guard’s defense of the DODIN is a 24/7, year-round endeavor. In addition, the Coast Guard Cyber Command helps the U.S. Cyber Command plan and conduct activities related to the operations and defense of DODIN. For this effort, the admiral reports to Gen. Paul Nakasone, USA, commander, U.S. Cyber Command; director, National Security Agency; and chief, Central Security Service, as well as to Vice Adm. Nancy Norton, USN, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency; and the commander of the Joint Force Headquarters–DODIN.
The Coast Guard, along with all of the services, helps the U.S. Cyber Command conduct “full-spectrum military cyberspace operations and ensures the country’s and allies’ autonomy to act in cyberspace, while denying adversarial actions, according to the Coast Guard.
“Our adversaries are exceptionally aggressive and we need to be able to protect our operating environment so that we can make sure we’re able to perform our missions,” Adm. Dermanelian says. “We can’t operate if we have a compromised environment, and we can’t operate with confidence if we don’t have our own environment well-defended. That’s mission one.”
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard Cyber Command’s role in protecting the maritime transportation sector—securing the country’s ports, shipping lanes and waterways—is unique as far as cybersecurity is concerned. The command is responsible for understanding the threats to that sector and working with partners to mitigate them.
“Cyber is absolutely a team sport,” the commander notes. “And with the Coast Guard also being a law enforcement agency, we have Title 40 authorities for law enforcement purposes of the Department of Homeland Security. We have Title 10 authorities for warfighting purposes, and we have Title 50 authorities for intelligence purposes, and we have Captain of the Port Authorities. So we are leveraging all of those authorities to protect the nation.”
However, safeguarding the 360 U.S. sea and river ports is demanding, especially since the country’s security and economic stability is on the line. “Protecting the maritime transportation sector is very important for $4.6 trillion of goods that come in and out of our ports every year,” the commander stresses.
To that end, the service is working on how to regulate the cyber safety of merchant vessels coming into U.S. ports. “It’s the notion of are you practicing as a prudent mariner appropriate cybersecurity and understanding that your machinery and propulsion control systems may very well be controlled by cyber means, even if they’re not connected directly to the Internet,” Adm. Dermanelian states.
Malware could be planted on a ship, and the vessel could be located in the center of a channel, blocking commerce. “Some of our strategic ports, they are doing over a billion dollars a day, and if it is shut down for a single day, that is a huge problem,” he stresses.
Given the short supply chain across the nation, any attack presents a risk. “It could dramatically impact the security of United States and how goods and services get to the shelves of our supermarkets or to our commercial providers,” Adm. Dermanelian warns. “Disrupting that will directly impact the wellbeing of the nation. So we have to understand what the adversary is doing in the maritime transportation sector. Some of that involves intelligence, and some of that is a good assessment of cyber hygiene onboard a vessel or in a port authority’s network of services that they provide.”
In late September 2018, the Port of San Diego was hit by a ransomware cyber attack that compromised some of its information technology systems. The Coast Guard coordinated with the port while the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigated the incident.“Like it or not, the maritime industry is in the digital domain now, and it is not immune to cyber attacks,” Adm. Dermanelian says.
Additionally, the commander acknowledges that the Coast Guard Cyber Command’s third mission, to enable cyber operations, “is still fairly nascent.”
In February 2017, the Coast Guard began building and training its Cyber Protection Team (CPT), the service’s first cyberspace operational force. By the end of 2019, the CPT will be trained to the joint standards of the Department of Defense cyber mission force. As a deployable specialized force, the CPT’s 39 active, reserve and civilian personnel will be fully interoperable with the other services’ cyber mission force teams, as well as with DHS’ cybersecurity operation teams, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard also is building up its cyber forces through the ranks by adding a cybersecurity major to its degree program at the Coast Guard Academy—a step the Coast Guard Cyber commander welcomes.
“Having the right number of men and women with the skills that not only can defend our enterprise mission platform and our C5I mission space, but also our cyberspace is crucial,” Adm. Dermanelian says. “Having a pipeline of educated ensigns coming out of the Coast Guard Academy is exciting. We need a steady stream of cyber professionals so that they can help protect our cyberspace and the information that flows to and from it, because it’s a complex environment. They will really enable the Coast Guard to perform its mission.”