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Air Force leaders discuss need to control cyberspace

by Chuck Paone
Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs

9/26/2007 - NEW CASTLE, N.H. (AFPN) -- Military and industry leaders who gathered here this week spoke about the tremendous warfighting value of controlling cyberspace, but they were just as clear about the inherent threats.

"If we lose our ability to use cyberspace, we lose out ability to war-fight," said. Col. Tony Buntyn, director of 8th Air Force's Global Cyberspace Air Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

Speaking at the Fifth Annual Net-Centric Operations Conference, Colonel Buntyn and others shared ideas for making Air Force and Department of Defense computer networks safer and more effective. The conference was co-sponsored by the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, Mass., and the Patriot Roost Chapter of the Association of Old Crows.

"We need to think about weapons of mass disruption, not just weapons of mass destruction," said Maj. Gen. William Lord, who had just been announced as the incoming commander of the new, provisional Air Force Cyber Command at Barksdale. "We're not going to give up our 2,000-pound (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), but we've got to consider cyber options, too."

General Lord, who currently serves as director of the Information, Services and Integration Division of the Air Force's Warfighting Integration Office and as Chief Information Officer, said the U.S. needs to shift its collective mindset.

"We're not there yet culturally, but we'll get there."

Because lives can be saved and because terrorists and others are already exploiting cyberspace to America's detriment, the U.S. and its military have little choice but to do so, he and other speakers said.

"When we went into battle in the past, it was the haves versus the have-nots," said Rich Byrne, vice president for command and control programs at the MITRE Corp, stressing that the Air Force then could rely on simply having better pilots and equipment than its adversaries. "Now, it's much more a battle of wills versus will-nots. Terrorists use commercial technology all the time to fight, but we don't use it nearly as much."

Mr. Byrne said terrorist networks rely on common commercial items such as cell phones, camera phones and Global Positioning System devices. U.S. warfighters need to take advantage of these same technologies, too, he said, arguing that they can greatly enhance collaboration, which is the real key to information awareness.

"I'm not saying we should replace the sensors and communication systems we're using now, but that we should use these commercial technologies to supplement them," he said. He acknowledged that the military would have to ensure the security of such an expanded network, but thought the problem solvable.

Security was also a concern for Colonel Buntyn, whose presentation was "interrupted" by what he called a distributed denial of service attack. Though the audience was unaware at first, the scenario was scripted. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the potential vulnerability of a network and the professional manner in which Airmen are now prepared to respond.

Even after the disruption had been eliminated and its source dealt with, however, a potential problem remained. The colonel used an innocuous Web page listing college football standings to demonstrate. The page looked normal at first glance, but one team's record had actually been changed to 0-100.

"What if the numbers that were changed had been target coordinates?" the colonel asked. "We'd have a real problem then."

While discussing the Xs and Os of secure and highly effective networked operations, several speakers spoke of using so-called service-oriented architectures to enable interoperability. Based on the engineering principle of loose coupling, SOAs manage software system interactions by using simple, generic interfaces. In this way, consumers and providers of information share a small set of universally available interfaces to use or provide information services.

This requires trade-offs, several speakers said. Developers can't optimize one system at the expense of the entire enterprise by writing so much specific code that the system can't work compatibly with others.

Charles Riechers, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and management, emphasized that system interfaces have to be interchangeable. He said Air Force officials are even willing to pay a premium for systems designed with these "sub-optimized" interfaces.

"I'll give you 10 percent more for five percent less," he said, noting the greatly enhanced overall value of a system designed to interoperate with others rather than to maximize its own, stand-alone potential.

Mr. Riechers also stressed that the military has to be willing to work with commercial industry standards when it comes to information technology.

"DOD can't be the big gorilla in the room," he said. "In the grand scheme of things, we're relatively small." The entire federal sector, in fact, is a single-digit percentage of the commercial IT market.

"We have to be a player at the table, but we can't be in control," he said.

Conference participants discussed many other challenges, too, from service-specific policy differences to resource constraints. However, all seemed to agree that there are some clear steps that can be taken to enhance networked operations and to better exploit cyberspace as an asset right now. 

"I think the conference really helped us achieve our goals, which were to raise issues and share insights regarding both net-centric operations and cyber warfare," said Senior Executive Service member Bruce Hevey, director of the 653rd Electronic Systems Wing and conference co-chair. "I think we've helped establish a clearer path forward on these important fronts."

Just how important are those fronts?

"If we control cyberspace, we can control warfare and peace," Colonel Buntyn said. 

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