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Cloud-based Army Network Defense Needs Tweaks to Support Tactical Units

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Cloud-based cyber defense systems need to match the operational tempo and requirements of tactical units, the Army told Nextgov, describing a lesson learned from the just-completed Network Integration Evaluation exercise.

Army policy calls for network defense to be handled by a Host Based Security System, or HBSS, hosted at the enterprise level to detect, track, report and deter network attacks, said Col. Beth Bierden, chief of the network integration division at Brigade Modernization Command, responding to a query from Nextgov.

The sixth of the semi-annual NIEs, which concluded Nov. 15, marked the first time a brigade combat team -- 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) -- had exercised enterprise-level network security in the field, Bierden said. Col. Thomas Dorame, 2/1 commander, felt the approach wasn’t ready for prime time during the exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Frustrated with the cloud-based system, Dorame argued he should have the ability to manage the cyber fight locally -- as he did at the previous NIE, with a faster response time.

Lt. Col. Lawrence Karl, the officer in charge of the Network Operations Center for the NIE, described a three-hop network defense system that went from Fort Bliss to a the Security Operations Center at Fort Hood, Texas, and then to Fort Gordon, Ga.

Dorame said this complex process interfered with his command’s ability to quickly take defensive actions -- such as blocking specific internet ports used by attackers -- and interfered with his operational capabilities. Dorame strongly advocated that tactical commanders should have local control of network defense.

Referring to basic combat training operating tempo, Bierden said, “We have learned that the enterprise level [network defense]  has to be resourced and be responsive to a BCT's OPTEMPO.  We will work with the stakeholders to implement that in the future and also look at what capabilities we can give to the BCT with the level of expertise they will have.”

Margaret McBride, spokeswoman for acting Army Chief Information Officer Mike Krieger, said the service started to install HBSS in 2011 “in various forms, with servers being located at different places.  Some servers operate out of the enterprise, others have been at local locations based on the network topology.”

She said the latest NIE “is about more than a server location; it is about trying to better manage network security from the enterprise and taking control of some aspects of network control or defense that were formerly located within the BCT.”

Remote network defense, McBride said, “is about trying to simplify the load on units while at the same time improving network security. We are working the balance of skills and capabilities to get it right.”

Bernie Skoch, an industry consultant and a retired Air Force Brigadier General with extensive network experience said network defense can be handled at the enterprise level, if it is “combat responsive” to the requirements of tactical commanders as “it could be a matter of life and death.”

(Image via nobeastsofierce/Shutterstock.com)

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