What a WWII battle can teach about cybersecurity

The Battle of the Atlantic was World War II’s longest military campaign and centered on U.S. merchant ships and German U-boats, but there are lessons from that battle that are applicable to the Defense Department’s enterprise approach to cyber warfare, according to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s second-in-command.

“Early on in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1942, you had a battle space that was spread out over a very extensive area, and you had an asymmetric force element in the U-boats that were able to take great advantage of that large battle space,” said Rear Adm. David Simpson, DISA vice director. “In many respects, in cyber that’s where we’re at today – we’ve got a very broad battle space that constitutes DOD’s cyberspace, surrounded by a broader, expanding Internet.”

Simpson spoke March 9 at an event sponsored by AFCEA’s Northern Virginia chapter.

Today, the cyber adversary has an advantage in technology that often evolves faster than defensive action. But, Simpson said, an enterprise approach can better forge a collective defense that covers more ground in cyberspace – like U.S. convoys did in the Battle of the Atlantic, a plan that turned the tide in favor of the Allies.

Those large convoys of 100 or more ships and aircraft helped control the large swaths of ocean and yielded critical intelligence, Simpson said.

“In cyberspace, by having an enterprise approach we essentially constrain the environment in the same way the convoys did in World War II. We’re able to identify key terrain and put sensors in and around that key terrain to spot adversary activity – which looks to us like anomalous activity,” he said.

For DOD cyber operations, the enterprise approach is a good start, but full-spectrum defense requires more, including skilled intelligence personnel.

“Like in World War II, we have to stitch that information together for cyber. The sensors aren’t just enough; you have to bring it together in a time-referenced space where you can bring analytical skill sets to bear – people that can correlate the anomalous events and determine what it means and generate response actions,” Simpson said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Tue, Mar 20, 2012 Pro Justicia

Response to 'Anonymous' on March 12. I am 93 and was there !! (i.e. on convoy duty) in 1940-43. Subsequent to the war, I was a professor of History, (not the american version of history in which they won and achieved everything. Talk of political correctness!!) To teach anonymous a little history, many ships of the nazi overun nations of Europe had taken refuge in the UK and regularly participated in convoys proteced by the Royal Navy which used the old US 'lease lend' destroyers -- at a time when the US still made profits from both sides. Pro Justicia.

Tue, Mar 13, 2012

Putting aside the arguments about historical details, I agree with Glenn Schlarman that the shopping mall analogy, with many different types of players and motives, is more appropriate for modern cybersecurity. Everyone from "Cyber-hooligans" to terrorists, to nation states, to organized crime is involved, and the environment in which all of this is happeningwill continue to change and expand.

Tue, Mar 13, 2012 Jess-Tor beltway

@Glenn. Shopping mall analogy good, but in the real world mall security is provided by rent-a-cop Mall Security plus occasional walk-throughs by the City Police plus many Good Folks around (who'd report problems). We've the latter two.. now we just need salaried & sanctioned vigilantes who can take down the thugs.

Mon, Mar 12, 2012

It should be noted that one Admiral King had such antipathy to the Britich that he ignored their suggestions to convoy. The U-Boats wrecked havoc for a year along our coasts and the Mid-Atlantic, because of it. Of key importance was our breaking the German codes, so we could try to go where the U-boats were not.

Mon, Mar 12, 2012

The more important message is the fact that they want to use "sensors" in strategic areas for monitoring. This in turn means watching over public communications that might tip off a potential attack. For get who owned the battle - this is irrelevant.

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