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DISA Readies Expanded Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign to Engage Workforce

The agency turned a month-long cybersecurity initiative into a continuous effort as a reminder to the workforce on how to stay aware and protect the network.

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The Defense Information Systems Agency command center at Fort Meade, MD. Photo Credit: John Kandrac

A monthlong Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) campaign focusing on cybersecurity awareness in March turned into a yearlong effort due to the prevalence of malicious cyber activity and the Defense Department’s renewed prioritization of cybersecurity.

DISA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner decided he didn’t want to just give attention to cybersecurity during the month of March, but instead make it a focal point throughout the entire year.

DISA has launched a three-phased approach to reinforce best practices for protecting networks across the entire DOD enterprise.

According to David Still, branch chief for DOD Cyber Exchange and DOD Cyber Training Programs at DISA, employees will be receiving quarterly, monthly and weekly reminders on how to stay cyber ready.

Every quarter, the DISA Strategic Communications Group will publish Dateline DISA, the agency’s electronic newsletter, that will offer an in-depth article on a cybersecurity topic. Every month, DISA TV will air 12 short videos on a variety of cyber best practices.

Still said DISA will launch Cyber Corner in May, which will provide the workforce with a weekly, bite-sized takeaway about cybersecurity and cyber readiness.

“We’ve taken our cyber awareness challenge, which is our overarching DOD training, and deconstructed it into small nuggets; what little lessons do we want our workforce to learn,” Still said in an interview with GovCIO Media & Research.  “Employees see Dateline DISA when they log on, and Cyber Corner will pop up, and they will be able to see what is my one thing I can think about and remember today as it relates to cybersecurity best practices and how to be secure on the network.”

In addition to the ongoing campaign to reduce the number of cyber incidents, refresher courses are included as part of the annual mandatory training for all military and civilian contractors within DISA.

Employees have to take the following courses related to cybersecurity: cyber awareness challenge, personal identifiable information (PII) and phishing.

“DISA also offers a deeper dive with two stand-alone courses that go further with PII and phishing, since phishing remains the number one threat vector for adversaries to gain access to the network,” Still said.

DISA also continues to work hard at preventing several social engineering scams like spear phishing and whaling that pose major threats to DOD’s network.

CISA recently said phishing poses one of the biggest threats to federal networks, a trend that began in the early days of the pandemic.

“Spear phishing allows emails to look more realistic. They target a specific person for a specific reason,” Malloy said. “Whaling is a form of spear phishing. It goes after large targets like government CEOs and senior executives because they have something specific that will be a large payoff.”

“We neuter those links that would take users to a malicious site, we check different scoring mechanisms that determine whether or not emails are allowed to get to the end user, and the last line of defense is training the users on what these emails look like,” he added.

DISA is currently using several tools like extensive network scanning and endpoint products to detect vulnerabilities in DOD’s information systems, such as the DOD Information Network (DODIN).

“If a certain open-source software has vulnerability and it needs to be patched, we can easily track it and see where we need to prioritize our patching. Then we look at the systems in place to centrally manage and automate that patching as much as possible so we are able to respond quickly,” Malloy said.

DISA also continues to collaborate with other federal partners to improve cyber hygiene and cyber awareness. They are closely aligned with the DOD and active participants in some of their working groups.

“We are actively engaged with CWAG, the Cyber Workforce Advisory Group, and the CYTAC, the Cyber Training Advisory Council,” Still said. “They cover a variety of topics under the cyber umbrella to include cybersecurity awareness and how to reach the workforce. We participate in the meetings, we offer what we have as well as learn and gather ideas that we can use and take back to DISA.”

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