Unified Army network walks tightrope of security, user needs, cutbacks
- By Terry Costlow
- Aug 24, 2011
The Army is driving to develop a single network that links all users, thereby simplifying operations for users and support personnel. As that network evolves, one of the critical elements for success is the need to protect data from all types of attacks.
Security is a central aspect of military networks, but it’s difficult to manage in an environment as large and diverse as the one required by military forces deployed around the globe. One of the biggest challenges now facing IT staffs is knowing what’s on the network. When new nodes are added, those links can open portals that could be exploited by adversaries.
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“One of the problems with today’s networks is that we can’t see
everything,” said Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, commander of the Army’s
Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom)/9th Signal Command and
leader of the “Build Towards a More Defendable Network" panel at
LandWarNet 2011 in Tampa, Fla. “If we can’t see it, we don’t know
everything that’s going on. We’re working on seeing this data. It’s
first on our list.”
A central element of the new, unified networking concept will be a
common operating environment. Industry standards are a mainstay of this
approach. However, they must be augmented by policies that ensure that
data is protected.
“Standardizing on basic technologies is an absolute must, but it’s not
enough,” said Richard Davis, a member of the Senior Executive Service at
Netcom. “We’ve got to get to standardized processes.”
In the early stages of the transition, it’s sometimes difficult for
network managers to know what’s on their networks. New connections are
often established, particularly as more users employ tablet PCs and
smart phones that might pop up in new areas. Managers are still working
to gain insight into those links.
“We must get situational awareness,” said Daniel Bradford, chief
engineer at Netcom. “If we can’t see what’s on the network, we have to
ask what seams we’ve left available for our adversaries to exploit.”
Although some steps toward a unified network have already occurred, most
of the changes being undertaken will occur during a period of
constrained funding. Cutbacks were mentioned in several LandWarNet
sessions and speeches, including this panel discussion.
“Going forward, resources will be coming down,” Napper said.
Although the drive toward a universal network will require significant
funding, it will also provide substantial cost savings. Today’s
disparate schemes require a lot of support, which drives up costs.
Napper made it clear that this will change.
“We need to issue orders telling people to run these protocols or we
will shut you down,” Napper said. “We also need to talk about moving to
enterprise e-mail. It’s not smart to have 70 versions running, each with
its own administrator.”
Many e-mail messages will be handled by the emerging Army Baseline
Information Technology Services (ABITS), which is being deployed to
replace the various technologies now in use.
“ABITS is on an aggressive timeline,” said Col. Frederick Henry,
Netcom’s deputy commander. “It won’t look the same year to year.”
However, he noted that ABITS needs some additions to ensure that it fits
into today’s economic environment. “We need to do a cost analysis,” he
said. “We need to set a seat cost so we can tell people what they need
to pay for each seat.”
Although Netcom is taking big strides in its efforts to transform
communications into a secure, seamless environment, panelists said the
progress will be paced by the need to consider many actions on a
case-by-case basis. Many facets of communications are unique, as are
some users’ requirements, so what works in one area might not succeed in
“There’s no silver bullet for any of this,” Bradford said. “It takes a
combination of tools and human processes. The challenge is to find the
Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.