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Cybersecurity Garners Attention

Cyberspace is the new frontier and is fraught with all the excitement and peril that come with it. Opportunities for innovation and prosperity abound. Unfortunately, like the challenges faced by explorers who settled the New World, the dangers and unknown threats lurking throughout the world online are often difficult to identify and fend off.


Rear Adm. Michael A. Brown, USN, is the deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications and National Communications System manager, DHS.

Information technology professionals explore the challenges of protecting data, systems and networks.

Cyberspace is the new frontier and is fraught with all the excitement and peril that come with it. Opportunities for innovation and prosperity abound. Unfortunately, like the challenges faced by explorers who settled the New World, the dangers and unknown threats lurking throughout the world online are often difficult to identify and fend off.

Military and government leaders forging ahead in cyberspace and information technology professionals working to light the way met to ascertain the best paths to take toward the future at 2009’s final SOLUTIONS Series event. As with all other series conferences, “Cyberspace at the Crossroads: The Intersection of Cyber, National and Economic Security,” was designed to be interactive: audience members and experts swapping opinions and ideas and at times disagreeing with each other. This open discourse extended through cyberspace itself to audiences from around the world participating by sending in their questions to panelists and speakers via the Web.

Sherri Ramsay, director, Central Security Service Threat Operations Center, National Security Agency (NSA), put the journey into cyberspace into perspective during the keynote address on December 2, the first day of the two-day event. Its influence has been extensive and profound, shaping how the intelligence community thinks, views the national infrastructure and works with industry.

Citing statistics about the trillions of dollars cybermarauders have robbed from consumers and companies, Ramsay called for a change in current methods to stop them. “We [government, industry and individuals] need a holistic approach to situational awareness for those who own, operate and defend our networks,” she stated. Admitting that she has more questions than answers, she added, “We need to discover how to do this.”

A number of government initiatives are already in place, Ramsay pointed out. For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the National Cyber Incident Response Plan, and the chief information office at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has created a “playbook” across its cyberspace centers. However, she believes these efforts are moving too slowly.

Ramsay did not leave the audience with challenges and no ideas. She said industry can help government by developing tools that improve data visualization, analysis and searchability; facilitate information sharing; promote cross-domain communications; and increase productivity.

Rosemary Wenchel, director of information operations and strategic studies, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, agreed with Ramsay’s assessment and shared her thoughts during the first plenary session of Wednesday afternoon. Wenchel called for thought leadership that takes a less linear look at cyberspace. Many still view the cyber domain the same way they look at the air, sea, land and space domains, she stated. However, Wenchel pointed out that unlike traditional domains, cyberspace respects no geographical borders and is multidimensional.

Although thinking must expand, Wenchel said that technology is actually converging. The world already is experiencing the blending of Internet protocol, electronic warfare, radio frequency, satellite communications, hardware, software and wetware, she noted. As a result, the military, government and industry must determine what it truly means to be a network and then develop wide-ranging rather than point solutions.

Wednesday afternoon’s second plenary speaker was Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of national intelligence for acquisition and technology, ODNI. Meyerriecks revealed that the commercial sector can expect “substantial investments in cyber research and development from the OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] during fiscal year 2012.”

Last year, ODNI co-sponsored a workshop with the NSA to determine what capabilities need to be developed to be real game-changers in cybersecurity, she shared. Workshop participants determined a number of technologies that fall into this category, including the ability to ramp up minimum security tools to maximum protection as the need to guard information increases. In addition, they called for economic incentives for a scientific framework for cybersecurity and the development of cyber policies and capabilities comparable to those now used for public health and safety.

Meyerriecks believes that the military and government are extremely underserved by the current analytics of cyber breach data. She noted that the ODNI is attempting to design metrics that can be used to measure how effective existing defenses are so that the government can make decisions about which products are the best buys.

The intelligence community is working in a number of areas related to cybersecurity through several of its established organizations, Meyerriecks noted. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA)—equivalent to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the military—is looking into how to increase the value of collected data, incisive analysis, and safe and secure operations. Meyerriecks shared that IARPA will be awarding a contract for its Securely Taking On New Executable Stuff of Uncertain Provenance, or STONESOUP, initiative next April. In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Intelligence Science Board is examining social networking and cybersecurity.

Rear Adm. Michael A. Brown, USN, deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications and National Communications System manager, DHS, opened Thursday’s sessions speaking about the renewed emphasis on cybersecurity throughout the government. He said he has seen significant changes in advances in the field as a result of government agencies partnering with industry and President Barack Obama’s increased emphasis on the issue.

Government leaders are keenly aware of the nuances of the threat. Over the past several years, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) has seen a threefold increase in cyberthreats. However, combating them is not only a matter of ensuring economic security but also of concurrently protecting citizens’ privacy, Adm. Brown said.

The admiral’s division at DHS has been building on and leveraging U.S. Defense Department capabilities and taking them to the next level through increased information sharing. As does Ramsay, Adm. Brown admits that these initiatives are not progressing as fast as he would like; however, the DHS is moving forward and will get them done as quickly as possible, Adm. Brown added.

Speaking to a packed audience of mostly industry representatives, the admiral invited attendees to partner with the DHS in pilot programs the department creates. “What are the challenges you face? I need to know,” he declared.

Adm. Brown related that emphasis has increased on the issue of secure access to critical infrastructure control systems. A new CERT based on the industrial sector will contribute information to the effort to boost security. “Again this is a success because of a private-public partnership,” the admiral noted.

Two major events recently took place that also will increase cybersecurity. One is the opening of the National Crime Information Center in October. The operational center brings in elements from the CERT and its own resources to coordinate cybercriminal capture efforts. Although this is a good start, Adm. Brown says that the goal is to bring together experts in both the real and virtual realms. “The only way to do this is through new processes, policies and training. It must be a public-private partnership,” he reiterated.

Another initiative underway is the National Cyber Incident Response Plan. This plan firmly lays out the roles and responsibilities of each person in cybersecurity efforts, the admiral explained. However, Adm. Brown’s group wants to “move to the left of an incident so we never have to put the plan into action,” he stated. The plan will be examined in the Cyber Storm 3 exercise in September 2010 and then will be adjusted as necessary prior to putting it in place, the admiral said.

In addition to the speakers, conference attendees had their choice of three tracks of panels that focused on specific areas of cybersecurity. Experts participating in the dialogue in three Track 1 panels during the event examined the foundational issues in cybersecurity. Track 2 panelists explored current initiatives that are addressing cyberthreats. The long-term plans for cybersecurity were discussed in Track 3 sessions.

One the challenges panelists identified was the security surrounding the increased use of wireless technologies. Richard Schaeffer, information assurance director, NSA, said that early last summer his agency worked with industry to determine how wireless devices can be developed with security intrinsic in the design. The question, Schaeffer allowed, was how to find the sweet spot between which products the government must build and which can be provided by industry and used straight out of the box. “I think we’ll figure out a way to do this in the future in the classified environment. Will we get into a SCIF [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] Class 1 environment in the near future? Probably not. But we’ll be using technologies out of the box to communicate both classified and unclassified information,” Schaeffer offered.

SOLUTIONS Series—Cyberspace: https://www.afcea.org/events/solutions/09/cyber/webcast.asp