New Internet policy was urgently needed by DOD

The department increasingly required a consistent, secured information sharing policy

The recent Defense Department policy directive that makes the Internet and Web-based social networking sites available across all of DOD set off a firestorm of reactions among our readers.

The memo, issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, formalized what many among the military’s top leadership have recognized for some time: Today’s workforce relies heavily on having access to and, increasingly, a working knowledge of networking capabilities that are evolving dynamically. Those tools, in the deputy secretary’s words, have become “integral to operations across the Department of Defense.”

The reactions among our readers no doubt mirrored the debate held by DOD officials during the months that preceded the memo. In essence, officials were confronted with concerns about protecting military networks from a relentless barrage of cyberattacks. However, those concerns had to be weighed against a new reality: The rapid and effective collaboration essential to military operations requires access to many of the tools the rest of the world uses routinely via the Internet.

Many of the responses from our readers echoed the concerns of Paul Strassmann, former director of Defense information at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who argued that the new policy isn’t actionable. It leaves open without resolution the question of how to make the military’s unclassified but sensitive IP networks work securely with the fundamentally flawed Internet, he writes.

He is not alone in noting that with more than 500 major networks; more than 5 million desktop PCs, laptop PCs and smart phones, many of which connect to the public Internet; and more than 4,000 major applications to maintain, the number of potential entry points for an attack is huge.

Others contend that although such vulnerabilities are real, denying access to the Internet and the ability to engage in social media sites represents a potentially greater risk by failing to fully engage in applications that the world’s young people — not to mention enemy combatants — are embracing.

We favor the opinion of David Wennergren, DOD's deputy chief information officer, who said the essential reason for the memo is to help people across DOD think about the need to balance secured computing and information sharing.

“When you think about security, you tend to think about individual access," Wennergren said. "And when you think about sharing, you don’t think about security. This memo was issued to enforce consistency around the use of technologies that are really powerful in helping people get their jobs done better" and do so in an increasingly contested environment.

The sooner the military can learn to conduct its business in that contested environment, the better.

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