Increased trust boosts Pentagon-industry info sharing

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The Defense Department hopes an information-sharing program it launched in 2007 has matured into a potent weapon for mitigating cyber threats that are becoming too numerous to count. Speaking before a group of contractors and agency workers April 22, senior DOD officials made the case that the Defense Industrial Base Cybersecurity Information Assurance program has done just that.

What began as a pilot project has evolved into a multi-tiered network in which some 2,650 contractors share cyber-threat information and coordinate responses to an attack.

In the seven years since the program's inception, DOD learned that the defense industry was "really good at figuring out where the bad actors were, what they were doing and feeding those indicators back into the program and sharing that with their peers and the other industry partners," a Pentagon official told the audience in a not-for-attribution setting.

Trust between government and industry has noticeably improved in recent years, the official said, adding that contractors are less skittish about what sharing information might do to their bottom lines. Cultivating trust was presumably one reason the DOD sent a delegation to the cybersecurity event hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

"DOD has a lot of information about what's happening …what indicators work for us, what mitigations work for us, but they're not always terribly useful for the [defense industrial base] because although the threat actors may be the same, their tactics may be slightly different," the official added.

The Defense Industrial Base Cybersecurity Information Assurance (DIB CS/IA) program covers classified information shared by the government and voluntary incident data offered by industry. When the inevitable attack on a defense-related network occurs, damage control and assessment are paramount. A contractor might, for example, report malicious software and the Defense Department would respond with analysis and "machine-readable indicators" detailing how the intrusion happened, another DOD official explained.

The information the DIB CS/IA program is designed to protect is of immense strategic value to the U.S. military. DOD and its contractors "have sustained staggering losses of system design information, incorporating years of combat knowledge and experience," the second DOD official lamented.

"Employing reverse engineering techniques, adversaries can exploit weapon-system technical plans for their own benefit. Perhaps even more significant, they have gained insight into operational concepts and system use, developed from decades of U.S. operational and developmental experience," the official added.

The department is finalizing a formal strategy for defense networks and systems cybersecurity, he said, focusing on four areas: resilience; "transforming cyber defense operations"; "enhancing cyber situational awareness"; and "ensuring survivability against highly sophisticated cyber attacks."

No timeline for the strategy's publication was given, nor were media questions entertained.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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