By Claire Heininger, U.S. ArmyMarch 2, 2016
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 2, 2016) -- It's hard to fight a hacker with a spreadsheet.
However, that's how signal Soldiers catalog the hundreds of systems installed on Army unit networks, and keep track of the systems' potential cyber vulnerabilities and available security patches. It's a time-consuming process that lacks consistency and is prone to human error.
Now, a new collection of automated tools is modernizing the process in order to improve security compliance while consuming less bandwidth. This is known as the Assured Compliance Assessment Solution (ACAS) Reporting Toolkit, or ART for short, the capability will rapidly provide unit commanders and program managers with current, comprehensive information on their cyber posture.
"It's going to allow us to see the network as we've never seen it before," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Ebeler, who spearheaded the project for Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM). "It will allow us to see down into the tactical enclaves, down to the end user devices, what vulnerabilities exist and what patches are needed, so we can patch more rapidly and make sure that our security posture is as up to date as possible."
With ART, a Soldier overseeing hundreds of networked systems can pinpoint a single vulnerable piece of software in minutes, rather than hours or days. A commander can evaluate a potential threat and accelerate a security patch ahead of schedule.
The information will also be fed into the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Scorecard, a critical metric that gauges how well different systems and units are protected against cyber threats.
"ART will give unit commanders and the greater Army a clear, specific and timely picture of cyber vulnerabilities and how they are being addressed," said Col. Bryan J. Stephens, director, Cyber Focal for the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) System of Systems Engineering and Integration (SoE&I) Directorate. "Not only does the technology streamline processes at the operator level, it also enables broader goals such as the Cybersecurity Scorecard and automated patching for improved mission assurance."
In support of a NETCOM initiative to streamline and standardize security patch reporting across the Army, engineers from SoSE&I Cyber Focal and the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T) quickly developed ART using available technology that is compatible with both ACAS -- security software that is widely used throughout DOD -- and existing Army programs of record.
The toolkit combines capabilities for system identification, vulnerability scanning and desktop reporting into a powerful, automated solution that can produce tailored cybersecurity reports for operators and leaders at various levels. That not only cuts down on spreadsheets -- it also reduces the bandwidth and processing power required to track, store and transmit cyber vulnerability data.
"The detailed scanning happens in the background and is transparent to the user, who gets the actionable information needed to accomplish the mission," said Col. Ward Roberts, product manager for WIN-T Increment 3. "As the Army continues to add more capability to the network to ensure Soldiers at every echelon remain connected and engaged, we must give them the tools to stay on top of these capabilities, especially from a cyber perspective."
After an initial pilot at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, ART is slated for deployment to units in the European and Pacific theaters over the next few months. The Army is developing training materials and reachback support to enable widespread fielding, and will continue to improve the capability based on user feedback, Ebeler said.
"As we keep refining it, we can improve the dashboard interface to make sure we're really seeing exactly the information we want to see," he said. "Like anything in the cyber domain, ART will constantly evolve over time."