Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Navy Makes A Major Push To Defend Its Cyberspace

Captain Bryan Lopez
Newly Formed Units Bring Computer Savvy To The Information War.

With reports of China and Russia trying to slip into the Pentagon’s information networks on a daily basis, U.S. security experts now rank the military threat from cyberspace just behind terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

In that atmosphere, the people whose domain has been the cubicle and the computer room are getting a chance to be recognized as “warriors,” on par with those who shoot guns and fly fighter jets.

Since 2010, the U.S. military has moved to erect barricades against attacks in cyberspace, including the creation of U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., to lead the effort.

The Navy re-established the World War II-era 10th Fleet as its piece of the cyber effort in early 2010. A few months earlier, it took another step that may have far-reaching significance.

Naval leadership created an “information dominance” corps that is bucking for equal standing with the Navy’s traditional “war-fighters” — aviators, submariners and Sailors on surface ships.

It used to be that the Navy’s weather experts, computer operators, intelligence analysts and cryptologists — the service’s “geek squad,” some might say — were assigned to a windowless room in the middle of the ship or the back of the airplane.

Aside from securing military computer networks against hackers, exactly how the military’s forces are waging war in cyberspace remains hush-hush. But late last year, defense officials revealed to Congress that the Pentagon has the ability to go on the offense in cyberspace.

Just as aviators earn gold wings, these “cyber warriors” are eligible for a newly created insignia. They must study aspects of all the information-centric jobs in order to earn it. Hence, the idea of creating a “corps.”

While it may sound trivial, it’s a big deal in the tradition-heavy Navy. Sailors are proud of their surface warfare pins that show a ship with crossed swords. Submariners earn insignia that depicts a diving ship. The information dominance version bears a lightning bolt crossed with a sword.

As of last month, 4,647 naval officers and 1,612 enlisted Sailors have qualified for the new warfare pin, a Navy spokesman said. Roughly 12,000 Navy service members are assigned to 10th Fleet operations — most from the information dominance corps. They are spread out around the world, including at the Navy Information Operations Command San Diego at North Island Naval Air Station.

Separately, Navy personnel at a wide spectrum of commands do related work, such as intelligence officers on ships and meteorologists at aircraft squadrons. They, too, are considered part of the Navy’s information dominance corps.

Analysts say that U.S. military networks are being probed constantly, often by automated fishing programs, with varying degrees of success.

In the Navy, there’s been some elbow-throwing about the new information “dominators,” as some quipsters have dubbed them. A Navy Times cartoonist penned a caricature of the cyber pin wearing taped-together geek glasses.

Some analysts credit the Navy for carving out more of a career path for the information specialties. A plan to have senior-level people cross train — an intelligence officer serving in a job normally filled by someone with a cryptology background — should produce leaders with broader knowledge and help upward mobility and retention.

“Navy has been kind of the leader in thinking about how to do this thing,” said Lewis of CSIS.

Capt. Bryan Lopez has served 25 years in the Navy after starting as an enlisted cryptologist. Now he’s the executive officer at Point Loma’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

He wears the information dominance pin, and he’s heard the criticism.

“There might be an opinion among the older generation: ‘You guys are looking for an excuse to justify yourselves.’ I would say that’s shortsighted. I would also say, you’re living in the past,” Lopez said. “I would say even people in my generation don’t have a good grip on the vulnerabilities and the potential ramifications of attacks that are happening today.”


Anonymous said...

4,647 naval officers and 1,612 enlisted Sailors have qualified for the new warfare pin, a Navy spokesman said.

Really? Why the large difference? Where officers grandfathered?

Anonymous said...

The difference is that the officer qualification process was established as of fall 2010, while the enlisted qualification process wasn't established until more recently.

Anonymous said...

They took a test and... Well, they took a test.