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News > AFSPC commander discusses cyber-security way-ahead at conference
General William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., speaks at the Air Force Association CyberFutures Symposium and Technology Exposition at National Harbor, MD, March 22, 2012. The conference brings Air Force leadership, industry experts, as well as academia and current cyber security specialists from around the world to discuss the cyber security issues and challenges facing America today. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)
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AFSPC commander discusses cyber-security way-ahead at conference

Posted 3/28/2012   Updated 3/28/2012 Email story   Print story


by Amaani Lyle
Defense Media Activity

3/28/2012 - NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.  -- Absent vigilant and strategic defense, U.S. forces' dependence on the cyber domain could quickly become its greatest vulnerability, said Air Force Space Command's top uniformed officer at the CyberFutures Technology and Conference Exposition March 22.

Gen. William Shelton addressed attendees at the Air Force Association-sponsored two-day event, describing the criticality of cyberspace capabilities in modern-day warfare and the unprecedented ease in which adversaries can access information.

"In this era of networked forces, our networks are our Achilles' heel," Shelton said. "For someone with the right brain power, and the right cyber abilities, a cheap laptop and an internet connection is all it takes to become a major player in the domain."

Shelton related the vastness of the Defense Department's global information grid, which enables U.S. forces to move, store and use massive amounts of data to produce decision-making information for military commanders.

"Imagine what a modern adversary could do were they able to run free inside our GIG?" the general asked, adding that the U.S. is the most technologically dependent society in the world and adversaries are probing every possible entry point into the network.

"The internet has become so integral to the way our nation does business that it's almost impossible now to imagine what life was like without it," Shelton said.

The dependence, Shelton explained, stems from the fact that technology has significantly fine-tuned U.S. forces' tactics in a relatively short span of time.

"Reduction of deployments is enabled by the robust reach-back provided by satellite communications," Shelton said, adding that global positioning satellites not only provide positional accuracy, but the very precise timing that much of cyberspace uses for synchronization.

The general also highlighted the precision of guided weapons, which has decreased the number necessary to ship to theater.

"Every bit of data that's passed between assets in any of the warfighting domains - land, maritime, air and space - passes through cyberspace," he said.

That very ubiquity makes cyberspace appealing for a range of adversaries -- from relatively unsophisticated individuals to government-sponsored doctorate-level infiltrators, he added.

"Cyberspace has become a very attractive target for less developed nations because the cost of admission to the fight is so low," Shelton said. "Our networks are probed by unauthorized users at a rate rapidly approaching 10 million times a day."

Shelton said U.S. multi-disciplined cyber experts have taken extensive action to defend its networks and will continue to do so through sustained cyber deterrence.

Deterrence has evolved proportionately to military tactics and objectives since the Cold War, Shelton said.

"In the Cold War we could clearly point to threats ... older systems took years to design and were so costly and complex that only a few countries could afford them."

Cyber deterrence will now be implemented in several ways to ensure dominance, Shelton said, citing the cyberspace superiority core function master plan designed to predict the state of cyber 20 years from now and develop a roadmap to get there.

He acknowledged the difficulty in forecasting cyber even 20 months from now and reminded attendees that the iPad was widely released only less than two years ago.

"Our priorities include automating passive defenses to be able to operate at the speed of networks, expanding our defensive counter capabilities, and focusing our cyber (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance)," Shelton said.

According to Shelton, AFSPC priorities also entail developing more robust situational awareness, enabling persistent network operations, implementing data confidentiality and integrity systems and establishing the cyberspace air and space operations center at 24th Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"We absolutely must ensure that every single device that touches the Air Force network is properly certified and accredited ... and we need to make sure every single person who uses the net is appropriately trained to understand the urgent requirement for security across the entire enterprise," he said.

Once the general and his team are confident in the establishment of a stronger defense, the move toward offensive operations will begin, Shelton said, adding that the command plans to considerably mature the thought of how cyberspace is governed across the enterprise.

The general told attendees that the command's priority project is the cyber domain's pending upgrade and integration to a single centralized Air Force network, which currently has16 regional gateways.

Shelton added that progress is in the 20 percent range with a projected completion date of the fall of 2013.

"That timeline is pretty ambitious, but we really need to get there quickly because a centrally administered network will help us maintain much better command and control," Shelton said. "It will also give us significantly heightened awareness of what's going on inside and outside the network."

Shelton explained that while the Air Force executes the basic blocking and tackling that everyone should do on their personal computers such as patches, firewalls, and antivirus software, the service's cyber teams have gone several steps beyond with sensors throughout the network to detect and flag intrusions.

"There are walls within walls, shelves within shelves and controls looking for problems inside every layer," Shelton said. "Not long ago, many defenses would let you know a threat just got past them; now many threats are stopped at the perimeter and then either dissolved and quarantined or watched to see what they can do and who sent them."

The general noted the need to prioritize and protect the essentials and related the complexities of shifting from traditional cyber defense to a strategy of resilience and intrusion-tolerant networks - with even more analysis required for classified networks.

The tasks at hand, the general said, are still more perplexing in today's constrained fiscal environment, sparking the need to consider multiple contract sources to help control prices.

"With increasing pressure on our resources, we have to squeeze the maximum value out of every dime we get entrusted to us by the taxpayer," Shelton said. "I'm interested in finding and exploiting efficiencies in each and every contract we levy ... and desktop service is no exception."

In collaboration with Defense Information Systems Agency and the Army, future purchases will face greater review and existing contracts will be analyzed to explore greater bulk-buy opportunities and alternative sources of similar capabilities, the general said.

With AFSPC's 30th anniversary approaching in September, Shelton noted the command's last three decades have been "momentous" but much is left to do.

"We must absolutely guarantee our access to cyberspace capabilities in order to continue to fight the way we do with as much agility as we employ and with the degree of precision that we've all come to expect," Shelton said. "We are actively pursuing solutions so that cyber is not our Achilles' heel."

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