Today’s technology is changing rapidly, and Defensive Cyber Operations ensures that the U.S. Army’s cyber defenders are equipped for the fight against all cyber threats worldwide. In response to the threat, the U.S. Army began identifying specific needs for a deployable cyber capability to defend against and mitigate threats from cyber enemies. The solution needed to be armed with state-of-the-art of defense tools and have the ability to control, monitor and forensically evaluate who is attacking, determine why and identify what they are after.
Several factors are considered when acquiring and developing hardware and software prototypes. “Our armed forces need to remain ahead of the adversary by acquiring adaptive platforms and innovative defensive cyberspace tools, ultimately enabling incident response,” said Kyle Tucker, acting assistant product manager for Cyber Platforms and Systems.
The team needs to be current and remain dexterous when determining how much internal computer storage and memory these systems will need in order to defend our nation against cyber threats. There was also an additional requirement to have adaptive platforms and system tools, enabling rapid incident response. The solution generated from Cyber Platforms and Systems has a direct sharing ability and provides current tools for our cyber forces.
Developing a deployable system with the required ability to tap into a network and host attack response tools was no easy feat. Requirements change continuously and rapidly. To keep pace with fluctuations in technology and current threats, many obstacles had to be overcome in a short amount of time. Although the first several prototypes were extremely rugged, the system was large and cumbersome. At least two men had to transport the system from point A to point B, and it had a shortage of computation speed and internal system storage.
With continuous prototype iterations, the system successively came closer to the desired solution. The speed at which the team was able to adapt and move into the next phases of prototyping is their most critical accomplishment. Cyber Platforms and Systems has been able to award new contracts, prototype the requirements, complete the user assessments and train the cyber defenders within seven months—a critical ability for fielding to our Soldiers. The normal acquisition process can take years, and the team accomplished the mission in a fraction of the time with an innovative, agile solution, significantly reducing the acquisition time.
After several more iterations, the fifth prototype now serves as the production version. This design is modular and allows for adaptation based on mission requirements. The system is also scalable, with reduced size and weight allowing greater flexibility to the Soldier.
“We went from a large and bulky prototype in March 2019 to an airline carryon before the end of November. We were able to get the kit into the hands of our cyber Soldiers in about six months,” said Lt. Col. Michael Lind, the product manager for Cyber Platforms and Systems.
The modular system has the ability to adjust to Soldiers’ needs and be deployed in different flexible configurations, to include adaptable host tools and physical cases. The result of these efforts was a cost savings of $40 million a year in shipping and travel expenses. Each mission is different, and the system enables the Soldier to adapt to evolving threats because it is malleable.
NEW EQUIPMENT TRAINING
In November of 2019, system training began for the cyber defenders. In less than a month, the Cyber Platforms and Systems team completed various training courses with more than 50 students. The team will continue training the defenders over the next several years as technology and new requirements emerge.
Throughout these training exercises, the cyber defenders learn how to use the software and hardware properly. They also learn how to use the system in different environments and how to respond to current and future threats. These advanced skills allow the cyber defenders to take control of the U.S. Army networks and our cybersecurity response posture to accomplish the mission.
In February 2020, another iteration of training for the Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations System – Modular occurred at the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta, Georgia. The students were excited and ready for the fight. “We are now able to accomplish cybersecurity for our nation that we have never been able to before. We need to secure our networks and data. There is nothing more important,” said Chief Warrant Officer Gabriel Garcia, U.S. Army Cyber Command.
In addition to training the Soldiers, the information collected during these training exercises is critical for refining the system and adapting new technology to meet the evolving mission requirements. Training continues to improve with each iteration and will give the cyber defenders the necessary experience needed to proactively respond to cyber threats on U.S. Army networks.
In April, Cyber Platforms and Systems was able to deliver several Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations System – Modular kits to the cyber defenders despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The team used a commercial shipping company to deliver the kits, mitigating exposure and using minimal personnel to complete mission-essential duties. All operations regarding new deliveries were conducted in a virtual operational capacity.
The Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations System – Modular offers the most advanced resources needed to host virtualized tools, and the ability to integrate with mission partner networks. It is ready to perform on any network in any environment from moderate to austere. This system provides the foundation for which cyberspace tools are able to be integrated and new solutions implemented. The tools and hardware that Cyber Platforms and Systems has acquired enhance defensive cyber operations maneuverability, thus enabling future warriors to complete their missions successfully.
Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations System – Modular kits are currently fielded through an Armory, a capability designed to act as a library in order to configure and check out the hardware and tools solutions. The Armory also coordinates inventory, manages hardware and software updates, patches and licensing, and facilitates training. To date, Cyber Platforms and Systems has delivered numerous deployable systems in less than a year, and will provide the cyber defenders several more by fiscal year 2022.
With this system and the tools Cyber Platforms and Systems provides, cyber defenders are able to mitigate cyberspace attacks by executing countermeasures, allowing them to outmaneuver the adversary and achieve mission assurance.
For more information, go to https://www.eis.army.mil/mission-areas/defensive-cyber.
JENNIFER SEVIER provides strategic communication support to Defensive Cyber Operations at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for Octo Consulting. She has 19 years of communication and marketing experience for public and private sector communities.
Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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