The United States had many plans at hand to deal with a national emergency on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the country failed to implement them properly. Part of the reason was institutional, but much was from a lack of coordination. And, the United States still is unprepared for the next disaster, whether natural or human-made.
As the military girds for a battlespace environment flush with big data, the COVID-19 coronavirus is forcing governments to adopt actions that can be applied to that requirement. Efforts underway to combat the virus are showing the way to data networking that can serve burgeoning civilian and military needs.
Just how these efforts constitute an exercise in synchronicity was explained by Terry Halvorsen, CIO/EVP, IT Mobile with Samsung Electronics. Speaking at the AFCEA Europe Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) virtual event in late September, Halvorsen described how combating the coronavirus has taken on warlike aspects that can be extended across the information technology spectrum.
A large number of national NATO contract competitions for resources could instigate bidding wars, causing delays during critical troop movements and confusion in the rear echelons. According to one leader of forces in Europe, adversaries may find it difficult to resist this opportunity to take advantage of the conditions to aggravate the situation by distributing disinformation and launching cyber attacks on commercial carriers. Consequently, during these critical early phases of military force mobilization, shared sensitive information and key infrastructure will need to be secured and defended.
For the last six months, the U.S. military has been on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic, providing necessary supplies and medical support across the country. Meanwhile, internally, the U.S. Defense Department has faced the threat of the virus with its warfighters. More than 55,000 Defense Department personnel have had the COVID-19 virus, and there have been 79 deaths—including one active-duty member, seven reservists or National Guard personnel and 71 dependents, retirees or family members, reported Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, USA, director, Defense Health Agency (DHA).
When it comes to nefarious deeds, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a gold mine for bad actors. In addition to wreaking havoc for individuals and healthcare organizations, federal agencies are also prime targets. Case in point: a portion of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) website was recently compromised, in what appears to be a part of an online COVID-19 disinformation campaign.
In a time of heightened cyber risk and limited human and fiscal resources, how can agencies protect their networks from malicious actors by taking a page from the COVID playbook? They can diligently practice good (cyber) hygiene.
In fact, there is a direct correlation between personal and cyber hygiene.
Among the many institutions that have been permanently changed by the coronavirus, the intelligence community has the most important standing in the national security realm. And, the changes wrought by COVID-19 are complemented by new technological capabilities that are altering the analysis picture across the board.
When the mysterious and deadly coronavirus invaded America’s shores in January, scientists who study deadly pathogens scurried to gather as much information as possible about the virus to help end the outbreak as soon as possible. They’ve answered some of the critical questions, but some answers are yet to come.
Some of those researchers work with a program called PANTHR for the Probabilistic Analysis for National Threats, Hazards and Risks within the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. The program officially kicked off in October 2019, but it was created through a consolidation of ongoing efforts.
New York University researchers are studying the behavior of people leaving healthcare facilities and how they physically interact with the environment—what they touch and for how long, for example. The research will allow the development of localized disease transmission models that can be applied to larger areas, such as entire cities. Potential models could be critical for predicting the continued spread of COVID-19 as well as future pandemics and other disasters, such as chemical spills.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled companies involved with intelligence systems and operations to rethink their work approaches to everything from hiring to clearances. Their need to continue to support the intelligence community has led them to new methods of operations that likely will remain in their portfolios long after the virus has passed into history.
The secure nature of providing foreign military intelligence to the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community requires careful stewardship of information and employees in an unclassified and classified environment. Once the COVID-10 pandemic hit, shuttering businesses and altering daily life, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, known as DIA, immediately had to examine and prioritize how to perform that work.
COVID-19 has done more than increase hand-washing and mask-wearing. It has meant an entirely new way of communicating and collaborating. Those on the front lines say some of these changes are here to stay and will last much longer than the pandemic simply because they are more efficient ways to do business.
States across the country are facing challenges around the ability to provide services and benefits during COVID-19. The underlying factor is how jurisdictions can verify and trust a citizen’s identity when the citizen cannot appear in person due to the pandemic, experts say.
“On the states’ side, if we think about how we as citizens establish our identity in our day-to-day lives, in most cases, we use our driver’s license,” said Tracy Hulver, senior director, Digital Identity, Idemia.
Hulver spoke about increasing trends in identity management during the Federal Identity Virtual Collaboration event on September 8.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the federal government’s need for better identity verification and management tools, in part to ensure relief funds go to the people who need them.
Gay Gilbert, administrator, Office of Unemployment Insurance, Department of Labor, told the audience for the FedID Virtual Collaboration Event today that the department was hit with a pandemic-induced perfect storm. “For those of you who have been watching the news, probably you’ve noticed that the unemployment insurance program has become a key—a little bit of a hotbed, actually, with regard to COVID-19,” she said.
The cloud computing infrastructure at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity allowed the organization to pivot to a new teleworking norm during the pandemic that’s not much different than the old norm. The organization has conducted business as usual, hiring program managers, adding office directors, creating and killing programs, and continuing to meet the intelligence community’s technology needs.
Catherine Marsh, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, known as IARPA, was told on March 12 to “lean forward,” and she did, allowing almost the entire staff to telecommute beginning the next day. Even contractors work from home legally, securely and effectively.
New York University researchers are studying people’s behavior as they leave healthcare facilities to see how they physically interact with their immediate surroundings. The research will help develop localized disease-transmission models that can be applied to larger areas, such as cities. Potential models could be critical for predicting the continued spread of COVID-19 as well as future pandemics. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding the Three-dimensions to Enhance Response (DETER) one-year project.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is seeking groundbreaking solutions to address current and future operational needs.
U.S. national security emergency plans are well documented with a disciplined approach, but their lack of coordination across agencies puts the United States in peril, say a group of government and industry experts. The country must begin to view national emergencies in a countrywide context instead of a narrow local or topical view, or else it will fall prey to whatever major crisis strikes next. The best way to do that is to build a comprehensive national security emergency preparedness (NSEP) capability that draws from lessons out of the Cold War and expertise from public/private partnerships. This also would be accompanied by a grading system that holds agencies accountable to Congress.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a new set of cyber vulnerabilities built around lifestyle changes throughout society, and these vulnerabilities cry out for new means of cyber resiliency. “It’s quite possible that historians will remember COVID-19 as one of the very important civilizational turning points,” says Alexander Kott, chief scientist of the Army Research Laboratory and Army ST for cyber resilience. “COVID-19 is acting as a forcing function. It forces us to accelerate the transition to a more virtual society than we were before, and it is accelerating the trend that was occurring before COVID-19 but was happening more slowly and less noticeably.”
Although the world is still in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, technology experts agree lessons the infection teaches about cybersecurity and resilience are emerging. As people don masks to decrease the likelihood of germs entering their bodies, they also must put barriers in place to protect their networks. And, just as they prepare for how they will rebound from the illness or economic downturns, they must examine their options for life after the pandemic.
New research areas and greater emphasis on existing sciences define the way ahead for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Longstanding areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum sciences and directed energy systems now are sharing the spotlight with antiviral research, space systems and operational biotechnology as the agency aims deeper into the new decade.