DOD's cyber policy deputy clarifies homeland support role


The Defense Department is settling into its support role when it comes to defending national infrastructure from cyberattacks.

B. Edwin Wilson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, said during a panel talk at the Defense One Tech Summit June 27 that DOD doesn't replace Homeland Security but has a clear, firm role in relaying intelligence and providing support during elections.

"The department does have a role in the defense of the homeland," Wilson said. "We're not trying to do DHS' job … we're here to support" in areas such as the midterm elections. He added that while DHS' primary role is securing election infrastructure, DOD shares intelligence on threats to it and help update sensors to compromised systems.

"We want to bring the weight, the scale, the scope of the Department of Defense to be able to defend the homeland, our critical infrastructure, and key national interests," he said.

Wilson also tried to unpack the "defend forward" tactic outlined in DOD's 2018 cyber strategy, explaining why the department is getting more into offensive cyber operations. The shift from reactive to proactive posture in cybersecurity is "because we've recognized that adversaries are using this domain and especially operating below … thresholds of a traditional response in enduring campaigns," he said.

Wilson wouldn't comment on the recently reported cyberattack on Iran in response to the downing of an unmanned surveillance drone. But he did said that Iran, among other countries, has engaged in such sustained cyber campaigns and increased aggressive activity that are "creating strategic risk for the nation and to our allies and partners and industry."

Cyber, he said, is now considered on par with other national-power tools like trade sanctions --- one option among many.

But when it comes to emerging tech, Wilson said his worry is the speed of tech innovation -- in such areas as quantum, AI, automation and 5G -- could put national security on a precipice. As technologies mature, the U.S. military will get more robust capabilities, but it also creates threats.

"This digital transformation is at a pace that I don't know in history we've seen anything that would match the changes that are coming at us," he said.

"Being able to defend yourself from a military perspective, you've got more robustness, " Wilson said. 'But it also it presents challenges because others are using it for offensive."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, 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 [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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