Cyber Defense

DISA takes on defense of DOD networks

The Defense Information Systems Agency is taking on a new role in cyber defense as part of an arrangement with the U.S. Cyber Command intended to centralize and integrate the cyber operations of the Defense Department and military services.

The initiative will create a Joint Force Headquarters for DOD Information Networks, with DISA focusing on network defense, AFCEA’s Signal Magazine reported. Adm. Michael Rogers, head of the Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, worked out the plan with acting DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen and Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, DISA’s director, according to the report.

Rogers, who took over the Cyber Command and NSA in April, began talking about the need for an integrated cyber defense shortly after. In June, he said that making DISA—mostly an acquisition and engineering organization with some control of DOD’s networks—an “operationalized entity focused on maneuvering and defending the networks” would free up the Cyber Command to do more than focus on tactical-level details.

“We have to give DISA the ability to come up with a command-and-control node that can coordinate with others in defending the DOD information networks,” he said at the time. DISA “could enable U.S. Cyber Command to function at the operational level of war. That's our niche and that's where I think we generate the best return and the best outcome.”

The move to a coordinated joint forced, which includes the cyber commands of each of the military services, is driven by the growing threats from nation-states, terrorists, criminal organizations and others not only to DOD networks, but to private-sector networks and the nation’s infrastructure. Rogers has compared the Cyber Command’s role in defending the nation to that of traditional military defense, which means defending the entire infrastructure, most of which is controlled by commercial organizations.

“What I think we need to do,” he said in August, “is create an operational construct that creates a direct linkage [between] U.S. Cyber Command, DISA and U.S. Cyber Command service components.”

It also means building a professional cyber workforce. The command is in the process of adding cyber warriors, with plans to increase its personnel to about 6,000 by 2016, and Rogers said intends for the to be as well trained in cyber operations as a carrier strike group. “This is not a pickup game where you just come casually to it,” he said.

While details of DISA’s role in the joint cyber force were being hammered out, the agency was working with the Cyber Command in supporting operations. In September, DISA announced an omnibus contract to provide IT support for the command, including for both offensive and defensive operations.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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