Defense

ITA official tracks data for cyber insights

Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

(Everett Historical / Shutterstock)

The proliferation of data at the Defense Department via mobile devices and other means has made perimeter-focused defense an outdated notion, according to Thomas Sasala, chief technology officer at the Army’s Information Technology Agency.

The data boom means there is no “hard outer shell,” or enterprise firewall through which to make DOD networks impregnable, Sasala said July 29 at an FCW-sponsored event in Washington, D.C. “Our attack surface is bigger than we want it to be and in some cases, it’s completely unknown how big it is in reality.”

Sasala’s comments echo those of other federal IT officials urging a paradigm shift toward assuming hackers will always find a way into networks and focusing on ways to limit the damage done. His organization is part of a seismic shift underway at the Pentagon to a single IT services provider that is expected to yield gains in efficiency and scale.

Reliance on a signature-based security system makes zero-day vulnerabilities – those unknown to IT professionals – a challenge for the Pentagon. “The system is not smart enough to know and look for abnormal behavior,” Sasala said With the specter of zero-days never far from their thoughts, Pentagon officials have urged software vendors to get them patches more quickly.

The ITA CTO also made clear the extent to which DOD networks are flooded with cyber incidents – about 190 million different incidents in one recent month, he said. Of those, a tiny fraction (in the hundreds) are investigated, making analytics all the more important to hone in on serious threats, Sasala added.

Such robust analysis of cyber incidents requires large storage capacity, a point that Nick Psaki, a former Army IT official, picked up on later in the conference. While servers and switches have “progressed dramatically” over the last 10 years, storage technology has lagged as the “broken leg of the stool,” said Psaki, who is now a system engineer at Pure Storage, a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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