Omar Rafik, SolarWinds Senior Manager, Federal Sales Engineering
Here’s an interesting article by my colleague Brandon Shopp with ideas for protecting IT assets in battlefield situations.
“Dominance” and “protection” sum up the Defense Department’s goals as U.S. armed forces begin to modernize their networks and communications systems. DOD is investing significant resources in providing troops with highly advanced technology so they can effectively communicate with each other and allies in even the harshest environments.
Efforts like the Army’s ESB-E tactical network initiative, for example, represent an attempt to keep warfighters constantly connected through a unified communications network. These solutions will be built off more scalable, adaptable, and powerful platforms than those provided by older legacy systems.
Programs like ESB-E are being designed to provide wide-scale communications in hostile territory. It will be incumbent upon troops in the field to monitor, manage, and secure the network to fulfill the “protection” part of DOD’s two-fisted battlefield domination strategy.
Moving forward to take this technological hill, DOD should keep these three considerations in mind.
1. The Attack Surface Will Increase Exponentially
Over the years, the battlefield has become increasingly kinetic and dependent upon interconnected devices and even artificial intelligence. The Army Research Laboratory calls this the internet of battlefield things—a warzone with different points of contact ultimately resulting in everything and everyone being more connected and, thus, intelligent.
The Pentagon is looking to take the concept as far as possible to give warfighters a tactical and strategic edge. For example, the Army wants to network soldiers and their weapons systems, and the Navy plans to link its platforms across hundreds of ships.
Opening these communication channels will significantly increase the potential attack surface. The more connection points, the greater the threat of exposure. Securing a communications system of such complexity will prove to be a far more daunting challenge than what’s involved in monitoring and managing a traditional IT network. Armed forces must be prepared to monitor, maintain, and secure the entire communications system.
2. Everyone Must Have Systems Expertise
The line between soldiers and system administrators has blurred as technology has advanced into the battlefield. As communications systems expand, all service members must be able to identify problems to ensure both unimpeded and uninterrupted communications and the security of the information being exchanged.
All troops must be bought into the concept of protecting the network and its communications components and be highly skilled in managing and maintaining these technologies. This is particularly important as communications solutions evolve.
Soldiers will need to quickly secure communications tools if they’re compromised, just as they would any other piece of equipment harboring sensitive information or access points. And they will require clear visibility into the entirety of the network to be able to quickly pinpoint any anomalies.
3. Staff Must Increase Commensurate to the Size of the Task
The armed forces must bulk up on staff to support these expansive modern communications systems. Fortunately, the military has a wealth of individuals with network and systems administration experience. Unfortunately, they lack in other critical areas.
Security specialists remain in high demand, but the cybersecurity workforce gap is real, even in the military. The White House’s National Cyber Strategy offers some good recommendations, including reskilling workers from other disciplines and identifying and fostering new talent. The actions highlighted in the plan coalesce with DOD’s need to fortify and strengthen its cybersecurity workforce as it turns its focus toward relentlessly winning the battlefield communications war.
Whoever wins this war will truly establish dominance over air, land, sea, and cyberspace. Victory lies in educating and finding the right personnel to protect information across what will undoubtedly be a wider and more attractive target for America’s adversaries.
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