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USTRANSCOM Focuses on Cyber Preparedness and Resiliency in Two-Day Discussion about Cybersecurity

In August, USTRANSCOM Commander Gen. Darren W. McDew brought together his command leadership team with members other government agencies, industry and academia, for a series of events focused on increasing the command’s cyber resiliency. Photo by Bob Fehringer, USTRANSCOM/PA

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Cybersecurity remains a hot topic for the U.S. government and its commercial partners.  U.S. Transportation Command is no different.  The command is committed to advancing cyber-domain capabilities to ensure its ability to operate freely in an increasingly contested cyber domain.


Last month, USTRANSCOM Commander Gen. Darren W. McDew brought together his command leadership team with members of other government agencies, industry and academia, for a series of events focused on increasing the command’s cyber resiliency. 


This two-day program included USTRANSCOM’s quarterly Component Commanders’ Conference and the command’s second Cybersecurity Roundtable.  Commander’s Conference participants included USTRANSCOM Component Commanders and directors, the Administrator of Maritime Administration, the Director of the Defense Logistics Agency, and Dr. Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation and expert in cybersecurity, cyberwar and changes in 21st century warfare.  The Roundtable added more than 30 cyber experts from academia, industry, government and the military to the discussion.  Singer also spoke to the command at large about cyber preparedness.


Cyber Resiliency Defined


The overarching theme of the two-day event was mission assurance during contested cyber operations.


“Resiliency means being able to take a punch and keep on going,” said D.R. Kenerley, J6 policy and strategy division chief, who organized the Roundtable.  “TRANSCOM’s mission has to continue.  We need to be ready and prepared in anticipation of a cyber disruption."


“We’re not trying to ‘cry wolf’ and scare people,” Kenerley stated.  “The purpose is to develop a better understanding of complexity.  People need to keep their heads and keep the mission going during chaos.


Discussion Topics


Throughout the two days, participants discussed key cyber vulnerabilities the organization and its commercial partners face.  This led leaders to identify the conditions needed to prevent intrusions within the network and to move the command forward.  Because of the command’s interconnectedness with commercial providers, it actually operates much of its traffic on unclassified commercial networks.  This makes it more vulnerable to attacks than its fellow combatant commands.


“Consider the fact that our commercial partners account for about half of our wartime-movement capability,” McDew said.  “Because of this, any one of their cyber vulnerabilities becomes a weakness for all of us.  In fact, our commercial partners are a key national security asset, just one that too often goes unnoticed.  We need to correct that, and we need to recognize the connection between us runs both ways.”


USTRANSCOM’s component commands actually move everything, added Kenerley, but USTRANSCOM coordinates and synchronizes their movement.


"We move information,” he said.  “That information often goes into other systems that may not be as secure as ours.  An adversary could steal or deny the transfer of information and disrupt or take down these systems.”


That’s why the command is focusing on a holistic approach to cybersecurity that involves its commercial partners.


Additionally, Singer provided insight into emerging technologies and trends in the cyber world that could impact USTRANSCOM today and in the future.  Most importantly, he framed the conversation for participants to think about “what’s next.”


“In the last 15 years, we have become accustomed to geographically-isolated conflicts while enjoying technological superiority,” McDew stated.  “In the coming years, we should expect conflicts to cross regional boundaries and potential adversaries to field numerically-superior forces with near technological parity.  In such an environment, we can expect contested strategic lines of communication, the likes of which we have not faced since World War II.”


Some of the technologies Singer discussed included 3-D printing, automation, driverless vehicles and the Internet-of-Things.  Semi-autonomous vehicles, for example, pose a new threat as adversaries may have the ability to penetrate their control systems and redirect or stop their movement.  With the large number of transportation assets in USTRANSCOM, these vulnerabilities would have the potential to impact command readiness.


While the commander’s conference focused on identifying vulnerabilities in USTRANSCOM’s network, the Roundtable focused on specific actions each component commander and director needs to take to protect the command from these vulnerabilities and to create mission assurance during a disruption.


According to Kenerley, the Roundtable focused on three key points:


- Building a better understanding of the complexity and interconnectedness of operations to cybersecurity concerns.


- Discerning the components’ and directors’ approaches to dealing with major cyber vulnerabilities.


 - Determining how cyber events are connected to real-world operations and how they might disrupt the USTRANSCOM mission.


One of the Roundtable participants, Wily Wade, chief executive officer of Biometrica, provided a unique perspective on how adversaries might exploit USTRANSCOM’s vulnerabilities.  He stressed it can all boil down to using simple technologies that have strategic impacts.


Takeaways


In the end, both events served as a reminder to leadership that cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility.  The entire workforce plays a part in keeping the organization’s systems safe, not just technology personnel.


Participants left the discussion with the idea the command needs to adopt a “whole-of-nation” approach to cyber.  In other words, the command’s approach to cybersecurity needs to include all its directorates and components, as well as other government agencies and commercial partners that have cyber expertise and the authority to affect change.  The command is charging every component and directorate to identify key vulnerabilities and put in place the right people, processes and technology to account for those vulnerabilities.


Moving forward, USTRANSCOM is working to develop assessments, exercises and wargames across the entire enterprise, including commercial partners, to test its cyber defenses.


“Advancing cyber-domain capabilities is an essential line of effort within USTRANSCOM to ensure we are robust and resilient enough to face and fight through an attack,” said McDew.  “This is an opportunity for us to ensure we remain ready to deliver the nation’s objectives in the face of a changing world.”


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