How DOD defends data in the cloud

Rear Adm. Kathleen Creighton 

Rear Adm. Leigh Creighton, Deputy Commander, Joint Force Headquarters-DOD Information Networks

Defense organizations can't rely on cloud providers to secure their data, said Rear Adm. Kathleen Creighton, the deputy commander for the Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Networks (DODIN), at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's luncheon Jan. 11.

"The first part of defending a cloud is admitting it's yours to defend," Creighton said. "When you make that contract, you're responsible for putting the language in there about how it will be defended, how you'll be notified of intrusions, actions that need to be taken," she said. "You can't just take your data and put it in the cloud and be like, 'OK, cloud provider, defend it.' You're still responsible."

During a panel discussion on the Defense Information Systems Agency's priorities for 2018, Creighton said defining each organization's cyber terrain is a top priority as part of the DOD's ongoing counterterrorism agenda for cyberspace, Operation Gladiator Shield.  

"Anytime there's an intrusion into the DODIN, the first question we ask ourselves is whose terrain is it.… That's a harder question to answer than you would think," Creighton said. The cloud is similar. Some may think the cloud provider is responsible for the data, but according to the Joint Force Headquarters-DODIN, "you can delegate authority but you can't delegate responsibility," she said.

"The first part of it is understanding your terrain, define what is your terrain in cyberspace.… What are the boundaries of that terrain and does that include a cloud?"

After defining it, she said, the next task is outlining how to protect it and what forces are available to do so, such as cyber protection teams, different certified cloud security professionals or incident response teams. The goal is to use that information to assess risk in each of the 42 area of operations identified on the DODIN, which includes combatant commands, service branches, agencies, field activities, weapons systems, data and cloud.

Besides defining cyber territories in 2018, Creighton told FCW that she  is looking to expand her organization's security focus beyond traditional IT networks and into the control of weapons systems.

Additionally, Creighton said she would like to incorporate more predictive intelligence to help maneuver forces and help cyber protection teams perform.

Broadening partnerships with academia, industry and other cyber entities within government is also on the list, along with improving the DOD's network inspection process to become more focused on mission assurance and compliance.

Creighton said her group issues at least one order to DOD organizations daily to update or patch systems,  but there's no way to tell whether agencies are fully compliant.

"The challenge is you have all these systems -- older systems, newer systems -- and as an organization, having situational awareness over your network," she said during her panel talk. 

Even if an organization says it's compliant, Creighton said she wonders without the ability to verify, if they're 100 percent compliant or just shy of it, something that increases the network's vulnerability.

"A risk to one is a risk to all because we're all connected," she said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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