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By Brian Robinson

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Obama gets good marks on first cybersecurity report card

 With the Obama administration’s new cybersecurity coordinator named and stories abounding about nefarious Chinese and other hacker activity, it’s perhaps appropriate that the first year evaluations of the administration’s cybersecurity performance are rolling in. More than a pass grade, it seems.

James Lewis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a government security guru if anyone deserves that moniker, gives a B or even B-plus. He also points to signs of interesting, if not yet encouraging, activity at various agencies.

Lewis is someone who has swung his allegiance to limited regulation of the Internet, after warning in the 1996 that regulation could stifle creativity. Now, he says an unrestrained Internet is just not realistic and that the government needs to take an energetic lead on certain things, such as IT infrastructure protection.

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Social networking for democracy (and earthquake relief)

Sen. Richard Lugar wants the Obama administration and U.S. diplomats to be “nimble, flexible and innovative” in the ways they use social media applications such things as Twitter and Facebook in the pursuit of foreign policy, according to an article in Foreign Policy magazine.

The State Department is apparently actively pushing the use of these and other Web-based social media tools by nongovernmental organizations around the world. It’s offering training under a new initiative called “Civil Society 2.0.”

This isn’t surprising, given the administration’s tilt toward new media. But you have to wonder if the comparative slowpokes at State will be able to keep up with speed of technology developments in this space. I don’t think the resistance in Iran needed any help before people there started using Twitter to organize.

I must admit that the techie nerd in me prefers the more basic -- and in my view more elegant – use of social networking tools. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), for example, is using the Twitter-crazed to help it pinpoint earthquake activity in areas around the world where there aren’t many sensors.

Apparently people now love to "tweet" each other after an earthquake occurs. So the USGS is using aggregated tweets to build up a database that could help detect earthquakes that its sensors otherwise can’t pick up.

So cool!

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Army to call up small robots for combat duty

It’s no secret that the military increasingly will depend on innvations such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other high-tech solutions to carry the fight to the enemy, but it seems that automated warfighting is being accelerated into the ranks.

The U.S. Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization program is apparently looking to provide regular Army line units with small robots that can search buildings, small hovering UAVs and robot missile launchers in 2010, as soon as they can start cranking them out, the Register reports.

The new program is the replacement for the funding-challenged Future Combat System, which was axed last year because of cost concerns. Some parts of that program’s ambitious robot plans were dropped, but it seems the powers want regular grunts to go robotic as soon as possible.

At the same time, however, there are reminders about what all of this tech might mean on the downside. UAVs are up there gathering intelligence, and maybe too much of it. Apparently analysts are struggling to cope with the flood of data the drones are collecting.

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM1 comments


Marines go GREENS for battlefield power

That’s GREENS as in Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (do people come up with the names or the acronyms for these things first?). And it’s a testament to the way technology rules much of current warfighting. In the “old” days, Marines had to make do with no more than a radio, a paper map and a compass. These days you’re talking about multi-channel digital radios, hi-def displays, real-time video links to unmanned aerial vehicles and much else left only to the imagination.

You can’t do that without power. So the Office of Naval Research has come up with a highly portable photovoltaic/battery system that Marine units can take into the field with them. Apart from the obvious advantage of providing continuous power in sun-drenched areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan, ONR is also touting the new system as a way of cutting down on hazardous fuel resupply missions that would otherwise have to be launched to keep Marine generators running.

Also interesting is the fact that GREENS resulted from an expedited development process, taking just a year from concept to contract solicitation. The military has been pushing for these kind of fast-turnaround processes to counter the faster-paced developments of today’s asymmetric warfare.

Posted on Jan 06, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Kundra talks about a new day for government data

Following the release in early December of the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has been opining about what it all means, mostly repeating the usual stuff about transparency and accountability.

Here’s a new twist I haven’t seen before, however. He talks about how Data.gov, the government’s portal to agency data, will help establish a whole new industry devoted to using government data. He believes there is a “huge market” waiting to be unleashed that will use technology to slice and dice that government data into innovative products.

Maybe this is all the same thing as transparency and accountability, but if so maybe he should make that clear to agency officials. Making data available so that people can access it and use it more easily is one thing. Making it the basis for a whole new industry -- with all that means for meeting standards and other commercial requirements -- is something else.

Posted on Dec 23, 2009 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Cybersecurity czar named; let the turf wars begin

Now that Howard Schmidt is officially named the White House cybersecurity coordinator, don’t expect that to be the end of the matter, at least when it comes to what that role means and who has a say in it.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), for example, plans to introduce legislation this year that will require the cybersecurity czar to be confirmed by the Senate. Others still want the post to be a Cabinet-level job, and there’s legislation out there that would codify exactly that.

Schmidt has apparently been assured of enough direct contact with President Obama to give him the gravitas he needs to do the job. However, he reports to National Security Adviser James Jones, and we all know the history of the hierarchy. Previous cybersecurity czars have walked out of the job because of lack of clout.

Meanwhile, Mischel Kwon, former director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness team, is warning lawmakers not to give any more authority on cybersecurity matters to the Homeland Security Department. It already has too much on its plate, she says.

Posted on Dec 22, 2009 at 9:03 AM0 comments


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