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Navy's World Class Cyber Command

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By Adam Ross April 9, 2010

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When it comes to cybersecurity, the U.S. Navy is way ahead of its time, says Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, where I work as managing editor.

"It's not technology, it's leadership," adds Paller. "The highest military officer has taken this challenge head on."

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead launched the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command (FCC) and recommissioned U.S. 10th Fleet on Jan. 29, naming Vice Adm. Bernard J. McCullough III as commander.

FCC was established to defend IT systems against cyberattacks and for global operations designed to deter and defeat attacks and to achieve military objectives through cyberspace.

McCullough spoke candidly on Monday to an industry audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he outlined the FCC's most pressing objectives. He pointed to inspection, testing, situational awareness, operationally focused testing, use of talented people, and continuous monitoring, all as goals he is steadily progressing toward. He also is moving toward predictive and dynamic security, the latter of which he expects to have in place by the end of the year. Dynamic security is when you know what's going on in the now, not what was going on a while ago.

"You get what you inspect, not what you expect," McCullough reportedly said at the event.

According to Paller, he is absolutely on track, the right fit for the job, and in one word "phenomenal."

"Finally there's a new sheriff in town with the money, the balls, and the authority to change operations in one of the military services," Paller said. "He is the first guy who is actually acting."

The Navy has done more in less time than any other military unit, in part by reclassifying its cyber unit as a weapons system. Though the United States has the most advanced weaponry in the world, if it can't control the computers that operate them then they are useless. That's a big idea, Paller says. "That changes him from a guy who thinks of this as security to a guy who thinks of this as an ability to deliver his weapons," he adds. Plus with this approach ensures McCullough isn't competing for funds with the Navy's CIO.

All of these changes are helpful, but perhaps the most exciting part of this story is just how serious the Navy's top brass really considers this battle. Paller told me that he heard Adm. Roughead tell his senior staff at a dinner recently that cybersecurity "is more important to the Navy right now than nuclear." Try that one on for size.

With Roughead's full support, McCullough has the backing and budget he needs to make changes. And by all accounts he's doing his job -- an exciting change of pace for this country.

And if you were wondering why its called the 10th Fleet, it's in reference to another battle the United States was once losing; during World War II, the United States needed a command in charge of protecting Allied merchant vessels and military convoys against German U-Boats in the Atlantic. It was the 10th Fleet that successfully fulfilled the mission. Cybersecurity is no different. A battle we're losing, but have not lost. And by all accounts, the right men and women at the Navy are on the case.

You can reach Adam Ross at aross@nextgov.com.

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