Chilton: Cybersecurity is each user's responsibility

Securing the Defense Department's networks from attacks will require wide ranging changes to military culture, conduct and capabilities, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Strategic Command.

The users of the networks "are making it too easy for our adversaries" to exploit weaknesses, he said before a conference on cybersecurity sponsored by Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association International.

“We know we don’t have the answers and oftentimes don’t even know what the right questions are to ask,” he said.

The military still does not have a good grasp of which machines are connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, a classified DOD intranet, Chilton said. There’s no comprehensive situational awareness of network status and incident response requires more real-time automatic intervention than exists today, he added. A culture of treating information technology as a convenience rather than an essential platform persists, despite the fact that local vulnerabilities can create global effects.

“People think that the rules don’t apply to them, for whatever reason," he said. "There are adversaries today out there who are taking advantage of that misbehavior and that lack of discipline.”

DOD doesn’t have the wherewithal to respond to every security breach at once, said Army Brig. Gen. John Davis, deputy director of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations. “There’s never enough resources to go around and solve every problem, everywhere.” JTF-GNO spent $100 million over the past six months responding to incidents, he added.

“Everything is connected. Some things are more immediately connected than others. That’s where we tend to focus our priorities,” he said.

At least some of that cost could have been avoided if network users took their own role in security more seriously, he said. Chilton said there will be no change to a DOD policy started last year forbids using thumb drives and other portable memory tools on military networks.

External security attacks on military networks number in the thousands per day and originate from individual hackers, “all the way up to the sophisticated nation-state, with some pretty good criminal elements sandwiched in between,” Chilton said.

Some states — notably, China — believe in exploiting military reliance on IT as a combat tactic. Strategic Command, in conjunction with Pacific Command, will attempt to hold direct talks with the Chinese military over cybersecurity issues, Chilton said. “I believe strongly in [military-to-military] dialogues, not only in cybersecurity,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has not given up on its intent to establish a cybersecurity command, Chilton said. That plan has been in place since late 2007.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 10, 2009

Gen. Chilton's 3 C's are spot on, but they must begin today! Leader's shouldn't need another study or assessment to implement the cultural and conduct changes needed. For the DOD GIG user if you violate the already published and taught rules and regs for Information Assurance and Security...Punish Them. Don't just talk to them. Hit 'em in the wallet and that'll correct the culture and conduct immediately. At least then in the DOD the GIG will see a dramatic rise in security. And I finish with this comment, hopefully one day soon at a Cyberspace conference or symposium or working group with many "cyber experts" and senior leaders present. These fine folks WON'T have their Bluetooth-capable devices broadcasting in "discoverable mode" inviting the anyone to connect to them. And we're all taught about the numerous vulnerabilities of Bluetooth. In addition, these folks are bound to have Sensitive but Unclassified Critical Information data processed and stored on those Blackberry's and laptops broadcasting "I'm here"...and that data is all available to a potential adversary to exfil and exploit. It was sad to see this very situation present at the Cyberspace Symposium in Omaha, NE on April 7-8, 2009.

Wed, Apr 8, 2009 Brieuc Bloxam Washington DC


On Sept 11 2003, Adm. Ellis, then Commander, USSTRATCOM established the DOD Enterprise-wide Information Assurance and Computer Network Defense Solutions Steering Group. It was co-chaired by JTF GNO and USSTRATCOM. The plan was to improve computer network defense (CND) by directly involving the Department’s Combatant Commands, Services and Agencies in CND oversight, planning, and advocacy. It was to assess shortfalls; identify, validate and implement viable, affordable enterprise-wide solutions; ultimately, streamlining the acquisition process to make solutions available quickly. What happened? Based on Gen Chilton’s comments, the DOD hasn’t gotten very far in the time since then. Someone dropped the ball or it wasn’t a big priority after Adm. Ellis departed.

Funding for the Air Force’s Cyber Command might be better spent on developing a single unified effort at protecting DOD networks that each of the services participates in vice separate programs as they currently do.

The biggest change in military culture needed in securing DOD networks is holding senior military commanders responsible for maintaining their networks in the same way they are held responsible for the men and women who serve under them. The fact that the military still does not have a good grasp of which machines are connected to the SIPRNet is a travesty and irresponsible on the part of senior leadership. I’d be willing to bet the DOD doesn’t know how many unclass machines are on the NIPRNet.

As far as people believing the rules don’t apply to them, maybe they should be enforced. When an individual violates the rules, they lose their access to the system. Then they can’t work. No work, no pay. Simple, but effective.

What is truly sad is that this problem has been going on for over ten years now and the next Combatant Commander with the responsibility for cyber defense will be saying the same time but he or she will possibly be wearing a different uniform.

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