DOD ‘years behind’ private sector in utilizing AI for cybersecurity, official says

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The Pentagon is lagging behind industry in leveraging artificial intelligence to bolster cybersecurity, according to an official from the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The Department of Defense is "years behind" the private sector in implementing the use of artificial intelligence to help bolster its cybersecurity capabilities, a top official said Wednesday.

Drew Malloy, technical director of the Cyber Development Directorate for the Defense Information Systems Agency, detailed the challenges DOD has faced in leveraging AI-based security solutions and said the defense agency was exploring ways to further operationalize emerging technologies into its cybersecurity practices. 

"From my perspective, we are years behind where industry is pushing the forefront of things," Malloy said at an Advanced Technology Academic Research Center event, adding that the main challenges in adopting AI for cybersecurity include ensuring the validity and cleanliness of data.

"There's a gigantic effort that needs to take place within the Department of Defense," Malloy said. "You have to look at the whole end-to-end chain of an AI model to know it from a transparency perspective." 

A Government Accountability Office report published in June urged DOD to issue department-wide guidance instructing its components how to approach acquiring AI technologies and solutions. The report said that DOD has "historically struggled to acquire weapon systems software" and noted that "AI acquisitions pose additional challenges." 

DOD officials have previously underscored the importance of prioritizing an ethical AI strategy when developing and fielding autonomous weapon systems. Last year, the department established the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office to help accelerate the adoption and use of data, analytics and AI. 

Malloy said that DISA has benefitted by partnering in recent years with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to "inject machine learning algorithms to pre-process the data beforehand" while detecting any anomalies in real-time. 

"You have to really have evangelists within an organization that can help drive people towards [AI]," Malloy said. "It's never going to be a top down thing."

Editor's note: The Advanced Technology Academic Research Center is owned by the Government Executive Media Group, the parent company of Nextgov/FCW.

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