‘Risk to One Is Risk to All’
Navy’s new IT strategic plan aims to bolster
cyber defenses and maintain information edge
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
The computer-aided information superhighways,
or networks, are becoming increasingly vital
tools for the armed services, for both administrative and warfighting purposes. That certainly is true
for the Navy, with its many overseas installations and
widely dispersed fleet operations that rely heavily on the
network centricity envisioned in ForceNet — the operational construct aimed at integrating warfighters, sensors, networks, command and control, platforms and
weapons into a distributed, scalable combat force.
But because the Internet and other digital networks
are so accessible, they are vulnerable to attacks that
can turn these valuable tools into dangerous burdens.
Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter released a new
information technology (IT) strategic plan in late
October that made establishing a global network-centric information infrastructure and defending it from
attack the top priorities.
“The challenge is for us to ensure that our strength in
IT remains an advantage on the battlefield,” Winter said.
To counter the threats, the Department of the Navy has
established a relatively small organization within Network
Warfare Command to watch for, and respond to, disruptive actions against the global information system.
The Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command, located in Norfolk,
Va., has about 170 people running
“a 24/7 watch,” said James Granger,
the command’s technical director.
They are monitoring Navy-Marine
Corps networks, which includes the
Navy-Marine Corps Intranet and tactical networks, with 761,000 users
on 300 bases in 16 countries. Those
networks receive about 90,000 potentially harmful probes every hour,
and have been affected by 60,000
software worms and viruses since
2001, according to Network Warfare
“The threat is at all levels, from the clueless user; to
the malicious backhoe [cutting cables]; up to the
recreational hackers; a more professional hacker;
organized criminal activity; national, international, up
to state-sponsored activity,” Granger said.
The intruders may be searching for information that
can be used for identity theft or industrial espionage, or
trying to take over government computers for use in a
botnet, a network of compromised computers operating
under the control a master computer, Granger said.
“Or it could be somebody trying to exploit something that could give them a possible military advantage in a future conflict,” he said.
Whatever the reason, “when we have an incident,
when we have a compromise, we attempt to isolate the
incident and restore services so we can continue to
serve our warfighters,” Granger said.
There have been some recent incidents that indicate
the danger of the open networks.
Last June, for example, the Defense Department networks were hit by a serious attack that disrupted unclassified e-mail service and some other functions. Some
Pentagon sources have said they believe Chinese military hackers were responsible, although other Defense
Defending the Navy’s global network-centric information infrastructure from attack is a top priority.
■ The Navy’s new Cyber Defense Operations Command runs
“a 24/7 watch” on Navy-Marine Corps networks around the world.
■ Network Warfare Command says those networks receive
90,000 potentially harmful probes every hour, and have been
affected by 60,000 software worms and viruses since 2001.
■ The command benefits from a generation of young people who
grew up with computers.