NEW CASTLE, N.H: Finding the right balance between user needs and network protection is essential, senior officials from the Air Force, the joint community and other organizations said during a conference here Sept. 21.
Addressing the 7th annual Net-centric Operations Conference, Air Force Electronic Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds said that protecting the entire Air Force network is practically impossible.
“Maybe we don’t have to protect everything,” he suggested. “Maybe we ought to decide what the crown jewels are and focus on protecting them.”
Lt. Gen. William Lord discussed what he called the cyber paradox: the perception that fully utilizing the network puts it at risk and that protecting it requires limiting its utility.
The general, who serves as the chief of warfighting integration and as chief information officer for the Air Force, said that’s a false choice.
“We don’t have to choose either/or,” he said. “We have to find the right balance.”
Both generals, and several other speakers, emphasized the need to protect the network while keeping it as useful and user-friendly as possible. Several speakers said that balancing act should start with the certification and accreditation, known as C&A, required before new capabilities can be added to the network.
General Bowlds suggested that more time-consuming, labor-intensive C&A processes might be appropriate for the most critical network components, but perhaps not for everything.
“I’m not talking about pencil-whipping. Whatever we do has to be safe,” he said. “But maybe the six-month process isn’t necessary in every case.”
Excessive policy, like cumbersome processes, can be detrimental, according to General Lord, who has set about reducing the number and size of regulations his office writes and enforces.
“Policy often gets in the way of innovation,” he said.
Balance is also the key to determining the best approach to social media and other Web 2.0 applications, General Lord said. He noted that each service currently sets its own policies, but predicted that the Pentagon will eventually settle on a unified approach.
“Right now, the Navy and the Army pretty much allow their people to use them with few restrictions, while the Marine Corps and the Air Force don’t allow any access,” he said. “My guess is that we’ll all end up meeting somewhere in the middle.”
General Lord said he didn’t favor the current total ban, because of the need to exploit these tools. At the same time, carte blanche access might not protect against real vulnerabilities.
John Wilson of the MITRE Corp noted that social media are anything but a fad. Augmenting his remarks with a popular YouTube video clip that lists some impressive statistics, he said it’s more likely that a communication revolution is under way.
“If Facebook were a nation, it would be the fourth largest in the world,” the video presentation contended.
Because of this popularity and because young people are growing up with these tools, the military must learn how to incorporate them and put them to use, both General Bowlds and General Lord contended.
Speakers also discussed strategies for getting just the right information to warfighters.
“We’ve got to make sure we get them the right information, in the right format, with the timeliness, fidelity, integrity and pedigree they need,” said Ron Mason, director of the 653d Electronic Systems Wing. The 653d is the lead government organization for the annual conference, which is hosted by the Patriots’ Roost Chapter of the Association of Old Crows.
Mr. Mason also said that he’d been encouraged by industry visits.
“I hear people talking not just about information assurance but about mission assurance out there, and that’s good,” he said.
Other speakers picked up on that theme, emphasizing its criticality. The bottom line, they agreed, is that the mission is accomplished, without compromise.