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DIU Boosts Cyber Workforce With Acquisition Accelerator

Bringing cutting-edge commercial cyber solutions to military partners quickly can help government’s workforce gap while tackling pipeline challenges.

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The cybersecurity workforce gap is not a new issue, and it’s a challenge that both the private and public sectors alike face. The Defense Innovation Unit is one organization taking unique strides to accelerate strategic acquisition of cyber technologies to alleviate the stress of the Defense Department’s cybersecurity personnel.

While various mission areas across DOD are working toward strengthening their cybersecurity pipeline, DIU Cybersecurity Portfolio Director Jeff Kleck is working the acquisition side of the house to bring solutions on board to various partners across the military to drive cyber resiliency.

The cybersecurity portfolio is one of six at DIU, an organization within DOD that looks to seek and introduce new and emerging technologies to the national security space at speed through a vetting process that’s quicker than most acquisition processes in the federal space.

Although the cybersecurity portfolio doesn’t acquire human capital to help fill the cyber workforce gap, Kleck told GovernmentCIO Media & Research that the technologies and projects he has in his portfolio are resilient, cutting-edge, often automated and ultimately aim to help cybersecurity professionals focus their work on the highest-tier cybersecurity incidents. This allows the technology DIU acquires at speed to help with the lower-risk work.

“Both the technologies that we’re bringing on are alleviating some of that stress on the workforce because technologies have efficiencies in them that allow the workforce to do more with fewer folks,” Kleck said. “We also alleviate the need for each of these defense partners to go through this process themselves because we have a workforce that focuses on just that process of curating the due diligence, the prototyping and bringing on these technologies that have cyber experts that can communicate directly with the cyber team on the defense side so that allows the defense partner to focus on the operational needs that they have.”

Kleck cited automation and artificial intelligence as some of the most common capabilities in technologies he has been sourcing across his projects. Automation in cybersecurity has been a rising solution for a number of years now in gaining greater visibility in the network, automating detection, collecting data and reducing time-consuming tasks with robotic process automation.

At DIU, automation in cybersecurity has specifically supported its recent projects at the Intelligent Security Operations Center and in automated vulnerability detection, and remediation and cyberspace deception. Most of these goals are intended to help cyber experts focus on top-risk cyber incidents and risks.

“Intelligence Security Operations Center is a great example of one that utilized both AI and automation to help … all the skins of smaller, low-level projects or threats, to categorize those and move them quickly through so that the analyst is not overwhelmed with things they don’t really need to be looking at because it allows them to then focus their attention on the things that have a greater need,” Kleck said.

Aside from automation as a high-demand capability, Kleck said that resilient architectures and zero trust are the cutting-edge technologies and cybersecurity solutions that he is seeking these days for his customers.

Beyond the specs of the tech itself though, DIU’s model of rapid technological acquisition more often than not by reviewing defense partner’s problem areas and needs are and engaging with the commercial sector for solutions. DIU is based in several tech hubs in America, including Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin and Washington, where Kleck said he and his team watch what industry partners do with venture capitalists, as well as new and existing enterprises.

This closeness is key in DIU’s rapid acquisition process, as it has a constant pulse on emerging technology and subsequently allows industry partners to submit solutions into its quick vetting and procurement model to get cyber solutions quickly to the workforce, helping them amid mounting challenges and workforce strain.

“This is technology that moves very quickly,” Kleck said. “You can’t base what you’re going to do on something you knew a year ago. The technology will have changed. Things have moved on. So we go back and curate that space, find everything that’s out there, and then run through our process where we bring in all of those folks [in industry] and then match them against the problem set and distill them down to one, two or maybe even three solution providers that will win the day, then we will prototype those, and then on the other end of that prototype, develop a contract.”

DIU’s partnership model also includes continuous processes of marketing surveys, Kleck added, and defense partners also work with DIU every step in their process from marketing to prototyping and contracting, allowing DIU to move expeditiously through the process.

DIU has applied this model toward different projects across the DOD, including:

  • Commercial threat data
  • Cyber threat telemetry
  • Hunt forward
  • Intelligent Security Operations Center
  • Cyber asset inventory management
  • Post patch testing
  • Secure cloud management
  • Cyberspace deception
  • Automated vulnerability detection and remediation
  • Mobile endpoint detection

These projects have helped drive efficiencies and cybersecurity resilience across the defense space. While these are some hallmark projects within the DIU cyber portfolio, Kleck added that DIU has done its part in also supporting initiatives to bolster the cyber education pipeline, such as in a partnership it has with the state of California and in a number of requests Kleck has for cyber workforce training-focused projects from across DOD.

DIU is doing its part to share best practices with other organizations, while it is also open to learning how to continuously improve its own processes. In December 2020, for instance, DIU signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to bring DIU’s accelerator of commercial cybersecurity acquisition to CISA.

“CISA is eager to see the procurement processes DIU has successfully developed in action and how it uses alternative procurement authorities and methods to quickly obtain commercial solutions to mission problems,” CISA Innovation Hub Chief Sabra Horne said in a statement of the partnership.

DIU isn’t the only organization trying to transform acquisition authorities and to accelerate technology adoption. Organizations like 18F within the General Services Administration, for instance, have pioneered in this area on the civilian side, and the commercial sector has also developed its own practices. Kleck said DIU is open to learning how to further improve its processes from such organizations.

These partnerships and work, however, all have an underlying theme of making maximum use of finite resources, a solution that officials like Kleck find helpful for now as the cybersecurity sector continues to carve out the education and career pipeline for the industry.

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