cyber specialists (Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)


Cyber defenses have improved, but DOD systems are still at risk

Although the Defense Department has enhanced its cyber capabilities, adversaries are improving their attacks faster than defenders are shoring up their systems, a Pentagon watchdog said.

According to the results of 50 cybersecurity assessments of combatant commands and the military services by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, DOD missions and systems continued to be at risk of cyber intrusions, despite improvements in network defenses.

"There were an increasing number of instances where the cyber red teams employed during DOT&E assessments experienced greater difficulty in penetrating network defenses or maintaining previously acquired accesses," Director Robert Behler wrote in the report. But previously unknown vulnerabilities kept popping up.

"[W]e estimate that the rate of these improvements is not outpacing the growing capabilities of potential adversaries, who continue to find new vulnerabilities and techniques to counter the fixes and countermeasures by DOD defenders."

Behler noted that the DOD's red teams themselves are under-resourced and suggested that their results might impart a false sense of confidence to system owners across the Defense Department.

The report also stated that "realistic demonstrations" of advanced, multipronged cyber attacks "have yet to become routine" across the DOD.

In an overview of its operations, DOT&E reported that assessments of legacy weapons systems considered resistant to cyber attack by virtue of their age identified possible avenues of attack in more recent updates that were not part of the original design.

Additionally, trust relationships between different command networks allowed red team operatives to proceed from one network to another. "Trust relationships are critical to the operational support relationships between separate warfighter commands, but they must be designed and monitored to prevent mission impacts by adversaries," the report stated.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

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