Defense

Mabus: Navy overly reliant on networked systems

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the service is teaching analog signaling methods for use when digital means are compromised or disrupted.

The Navy's longest-serving secretary since World War I said the service is working to break its overdependence on networked systems.

During a speech at the National Press Club focused on shipbuilding, energy and personnel policies and challenges, Ray Mabus acknowledged that cyber is one of the biggest threats the U.S. faces, and it's one of the ways the military will be fighting going forward.

The Navy is taking a number of steps to protect itself in the cyber domain, said Mabus, including "layering defenses, taking better care to protect our most critical assets, [and] having a lot of redundant systems."

At the U.S. Naval Academy and in Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, Mabus said,  the Navy is going back to teaching communications and signaling using flags and lights as well as other forms of line-of-sight communications that cannot be disrupted electronically.

This highlights the paradox the military faces in the cyber domain: with planes, ships, and weapons systems increasingly networked and integrating smart technology, they are more precise and lethal, but also more vulnerable to disruption. Army officials have also stated they are incorporating more analog systems and procedures into training to ensure the military is more resilient as it increases its use of cyber.

Mabus said that one of the primary obstacles the military faces in making itself more cyber secure is the acquisition system. "It just takes too long to get something, to buy something, to get it in," he said. "It's one of the reasons we're moving to much more open architecture, toward plug and play so we're not wedded to one system.

"It's not hard-wired into a ship or a system," he continued.  "We can change it as the technology changes, as the IT technology changes as the threats evolve, as cyber changes."

Mabus issued a memo in February of this year officially differentiating the Navy's cyber and IT workforces. And in May, Mabus issued another memo directing Navy components to "implement a defense-in-depth/defense-in-breadth [cybersecurity] strategy to mitigate information security risks throughout the entire life cycle of a system or network."

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.


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