Pentagon taps McAfee, Northrop Grumman to teach military cyber pros

The program is shielding Defense networks from WikiLeaks-like data spills.

The Pentagon has hired outside help to, among other tasks, train Defense Department cybersecurity professionals on using its networkwide threat-detector, according to contractors awarded the nearly $190 million job. The program, called the Host Based Security System, currently is shielding classified and unclassified Defense networks from WikiLeaks-like data spills, Pentagon officials have said.

Defense giant Northrop Grumman and McAfee, a computer security provider, announced this week that they have been tapped to teach military information security personnel and support contractors how to better operate the McAfee-developed system. After a soldier allegedly transferred volumes of sensitive data to the anti-secrets WikiLeaks website, Pentagon officials said they configured the tool to prohibit the use of CDs and other removable storage devices on the military's classified network.

Northrup began deploying the system departmentwide in 2008. The scope of the team's contract, worth up to $189 million over five years, includes designing the program to counter morphing threats and undertaking what McAfee calls the military's most extensive cybersecurity training program ever. The deal, overseen by the Defense Information Systems Agency, will supply help desk staff and infrastructure support personnel, the contractors said.

"The threats evolve and we continue to evolve ahead of them," Tom Conway, McAfee's federal business development director, said on Tuesday evening.

Doyle Choi, a vice president with Northrop Grumman Defense Enterprise Solutions, said the agreement entails helping the government's cyber workforce to become more proficient on the system and "understanding how to adapt this capability to help the customer."

Pentagon officials say the system stops unauthorized applications from executing and spots rogue systems on the classified network. Intruders probe military information systems millions of times every day -- and sometimes successfully, according to the department's cyber operations strategy.

The defense contractors declined to comment on coming enhancements but described some commercial features that may be appropriate for military devices in the future. For example, the program may be able to apply Pentagon network controls to an employee's home Internet connection when the employee is using a government-issued computer. In practice, this would mean that if the office network blocks users from sending sensitive information stored in the machine, such as Social Security numbers, the person's work computer at home would follow the same rules.

Another possibility: BYOD, or bring your own device. Right now, the Pentagon bans personal cellphones from accessing its networks. Conway expects, however, that within several years Defense may permit more consumer devices on to the networks and will need the security system to ensure that happens safely.

(Image via Amy Walters/