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DOD Stepping Up Network Modernization to Thwart Cyberattacks

Defense leaders outline modernization plans to provide the military with more secure and effective networks.

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Defense Department leaders are looking to boost security of networks and protecting sensitive data while ensuring military personnel can still efficiently communicate while conducting special missions.

A key component to having a secure network is IT modernization.

One of the biggest security challenges networks face today is making sure data is available and accessible.

“It can be the most secure data in the world, but if I can’t reach out and touch it, it doesn’t mean anything to me, I can’t use it, I can’t apply it,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Matos, director of the Marines’ Information Command, Control, Communications and Computers (IC4), at last week’s Defense One Network Modernization Summit. “It’s not just modernization of the security infrastructure, it’s modernization of the networking and transport infrastructure needed to access that information to make it usable to our users.”

Matos said DOD is also moving toward using tactical cloudlets to help military personnel connect to the cloud and obtain the information they need from a tactical environment.

“If the unit gets disconnected due to an outage caused by normal wear and tear, or environmental or adversarial activity, that tactical cloudlet still has the ability to provide that unit or organization a cloud capability,” said Matos. “Then once we’re able to reconnect to the bigger cloud, that information is refreshed and the tactical cloudlet is refreshed.”

The Defense Digital Service is also working to address security concerns.

“In addition to some of our projects where we’re creating and deploying products, we’re also trying to advocate for the underlying infrastructure that would ensure we’re able to consume data in a way where we have trust in everyone who is accessing the data, but it’s not locked by a vendor and we’re able to develop our own algorithms and able to make sense of it,” said the service’s Acting Director Katie Olson at the event.

Olson believes there are pockets in DOD when it comes to a zero-trust environment and opportunities to improve it.

“We need to lean in on some of the best solutions that we’re seeing — meaning a single zero-trust solution,” said Olson. “I think often times we get sort of mired in inner operability and questions about how our systems interact instead of saying what’s something that works really well for the Air Force and works really well for the Navy and then doubling down on it.”

Matos and Olson said there were several good practices in network modernization that DOD learned during the pandemic that would benefit other federal agencies.

Matos said it is vital to have a well-trained force and a strong governance process. Another major factor is having a solid budget plan.

“When that money comes in and becomes available, we can now say what we are going to place our money against. As money changes or becomes available or is decremented from us, we also have the ability now to say, ‘Ok this is an underperforming project or underperforming capability. Let’s lower it down on the priority list so we are going to take that money and place it on something higher,’” said Matos.

Moving forward, the Defense Digital Service sees value in maintaining a remote and distributed workforce model.

“It’s not only for the convenience of the workforce, but this is what the fight in the 21st century looks like. It is going to be remote and distributed, so our workforce needs to be remote and distributed,” saidOlson. “Along with that, we have to think about the infrastructure we are providing to enable that as well as the additional cybersecurity measures that we need to put in place.”

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