Defense Department Assuming Growing Cyber Security Role

By Meloni, Stephanie | National Defense, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Defense Department Assuming Growing Cyber Security Role


Meloni, Stephanie, National Defense


Cyber attacks are among the most significant imminent threats facing the United States' critical infrastructure. A catastrophic intrusion could affect power plants, water systems or nuclear assets.

The Defense Department sees cyber as a domain that spans air, land, sea and space, but it struggles with how to handle it as a warfighting domain to best protect the nation. DoD has responsibilities to protect U.S. critical infrastructure, with a significant focus on collaboration with the defense industrial base.

The department is taking steps to protect critical infrastructure with a particular focus on cyber resiliency and targeting threats. It also will increase cyber security information sharing with civilian agencies. The Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the General Services Administration and the Defense Department are collaborating on the software and supply chain assurance forum to strengthen cyber security via supply chain risk management.

DoD will coordinate with the Office of Personnel Management, DHS, the Department of Justice and other nondefense agencies to review the security clearance process, particularly as it relates to information security, and modernizing security controls on the actual systems themselves with an eye toward preventing insider threats.

DoD has taken steps recently toward enhancing critical infrastructure protection. The Defense Security Service is in the process of standing up the Defense Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center, with the idea of analyzing DoD employee data to predict, and ultimately prevent, insider attacks.

The continuous evaluation program also aims to mine data for insider threats as an improvement to the security clearance process. Although the organization was formed to respond to violent insider attacks, analysis will extend to looking at cyber espionage threats across the globe.

The Pentagon continues to plan out response scenarios, coordinating with other agencies tasked with critical infrastructure protection, as it continues to develop the department's cyber strategy. The White House's pact with China to stop state-sponsored cyber attacks on the United States is another potential way to prevent threats as the government works to determine consequences for cyber espionage. It remains to be seen if this will deter foreign hacking.

The U.S. government is also exploring sanctions as a cyber deterrent. Last December's Sony email hack ultimately required government intervention because of concerns that not responding would imply future attacks would face no consequences. The White House imposed new financial sanctions on North Korea after an investigation suggested its involvement in the breach.

Sanctions, of course, won't work on non-state actors. This underscores DoD's difficulty in knowing exactly how to respond commensurately to an attack, particularly when the perpetrators are unknown. Defense and other government officials are still not sure their response to the Sony attack would prevent a devastating attack on, say, a sole-source supplier of sensitive military equipment.

Along with planning cyber response scenarios, the Pentagon is attempting to strengthen cyber protection through information sharing with civilian agencies and defense contractors. Recognizing the susceptibility of industry partners to cyber espionage and data breaches, DoD recently updated requirements to centralize cyber security via the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation supplement, or DFARS. …

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