Cloud could provide cybersecurity boost to intelligence, defense

Virtualization one key to defending critical networks: CyberCom/NSA head

The intelligence community and Defense Department are increasingly looking to virtualization and the cloud to secure the networks critical to national security, according to the commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.

“When you think about changing that paradigm, one of the things that comes up when I talked to our folks when I asked them what would make us the most difficult target…the answer was going virtual, going to cloud technology,” Army Gen. Keith Alexander said Oct.17 at the GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio.

He said NSA has partnered with the National Geospatial Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Intelligence Agency – a team he referred to as ‘the quad’ – to determine how to actively defend the networks those agencies rely on.

“Not only is it more defensible, but there are some more benefits to it. It’s cheaper. The technology now is at the point where it’s faster. And it supports our mobile forces. When you think about it there are some tremendous reasons to go to the cloud,” Alexander said.

However, he acknowledged it’s a massive undertaking given the huge numbers of moving parts involved, but outlined some of the measures already under way.

“Within NSA and DOD there are those seven million pieces of IT infrastructure and systems, and 15,000 different enclaves. Our intent is to take that and collapse it down into a cloud-like structure. We’re migrating from a thick client to a thin client. We’re going to collapse the number of enclaves...moving all that data to the cloud. Marking and tagging data – we’ll call that ‘smart data’ – has a tremendous advantage to share signals intelligence information with the rest of the community, in essentially real time, like we do on the battlefield,” he said. “That’s a huge step forward,” he said.

Another key measure is a pilot program in implementing IT efficiencies in the intelligence community, he said.

Using NSA’s Georgia, Texas and Hawaii offices as pilots, Alexander said members of the community have reduced their 5,000 applications in the cloud environment to 250, and cut by half the number of help desks at NSA.

“We had 900, we’re down to 450 and we’re going down to two help desks. We’re reducing data centers significantly to just 20 across our entire infrastructure, and we’re also looking at going to open-source software,” Alexander said.

He also said NSA will move all of its databases to a cloud environment by the end of this year.

Alexander stressed the importance of the moves and said they could have broader implications across the federal sector.

“We need to jump to this new architecture to ensure our security. We all have responsibilities to make sure we protect privacy and civil liberties and all the things that go with that. But at the end of the day, we’re committed to doing this better, faster, cheaper than before,” Alexander said. “What the intelligence community and the Defense Department are doing in cybersecurity is good for the critical portions of our government.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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