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CHIPS Articles: Cyber Defense for Ships of Today and Tomorrow

Cyber Defense for Ships of Today and Tomorrow
NAVSEA takes evolutionary and adaptive strategy
By Alan Baribeau, Naval Sea Systems Command Office of Corporate Communication - April-June 2016
Cyber-attacks continue to grow more numerous, complex, disruptive and unpredictable. Since ships are part of a complex network of connectivity through the Joint Information Environment (JIE), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is actively designing and implementing cyber strategies to defend against this ever-present threat.

Thwarting cyber-attacks presents a unique challenge for NAVSEA and its field activities. It requires a multi-pronged solution that includes short-term tactical and long-term strategic approaches, according to NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. Willy Hilarides, who is spearheading the cyber risk prevention initiative to counter potential cyber adversaries.

“The direction and means of the next threat is unknown,” said Hilarides. “The best solution will have to be evolutionary and adaptive; blending technology, processes and responsive people to stay ahead of the threat.”

NAVSEA has taken significant strategic and structural steps in this direction. The command added cybersecurity as a fourth “pillar” to its strategic business plan in 2014, and in October, promoted its detachment in Philadelphia to Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division. Its focus on ship design and full spectrum machinery systems support remains, but with an added emphasis on commonality and cybersecurity, it is at the tip of NAVSEA’s cybersecurity effort.

Ultimately, NAVSEA will field a control system architecture for Navy ships that offers defendable enclaves, adapted and configured to the cyber-threat environment. Understanding that in the acquisition and modernization environment, this will take years to achieve Navywide, the command’s near-term focus is on confirming the design and configuration of current enclaves and developing tactics to defend them manually in the event of a cyber-attack.

Spearheading an approach that details the command’s role for developing specifications and standards for ship control systems, Senior Executive Bill Williford, NAVSEA director of Integrated Warfare Systems Engineering, plays a critical role in this effort. Williford is responsible for the oversight of $10 billion annually of command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, and intelligence systems (C5I) research, development, delivery, certification for deployment, and lifecycle support for United States Navy ships.

“We are developing standards and specifications for new construction ships and developing capability by providing situational awareness and protection to our current ships at sea,” said Williford. “Industry, university-affiliated research centers and the national labs are supporting our efforts to develop tools providing cyber capability for our afloat and ashore systems. This partnership will ensure a successful transition of capability to the fleet.”

NAVSEA's focus is characterized into four main parts that require concurrent completion:

  • Eradicate obsolete operating systems and applications and hardening;
  • Enclave boundary engineering;
  • Boundary protection procurement;
  • Cybersecurity vulnerability and resolution test capability.

Eradicate obsolete OS/apps and hardening. Just as Microsoft recommends upgrading Windows 8 or older operating systems to Windows 10 to upgrade security features, the Navy is “hardening” or enhancing its security stance through systems upgrades and eliminating the more vulnerable, obsolete systems and applications. These upgrades apply to the control of information systems existing in today’s fleet and include systems that control vital functions, such as external communications, command and control, C4I, aviation, combat systems, navigation or machinery controls.

“Operating systems that are no longer supported by industry are being hardened and then phased out as soon as practical, based on the technology refresh cycles of the systems or on their mission area priority,” said Williford.

The primary challenge to quick systems upgrades are those applications designed to run with a particular operating system that need to be upgraded and the hardware requirements for new operating systems and ship schedules.

“Ships currently deployed have to get improvements based on an availability cycle for industry to perform the upgrades, which will require planning to ensure that strike groups are hardened as quickly as possible,” said Williford.

Enclave Boundary Engineering. Just as a ship uses a quarterdeck or a brow for boarding and disembarking personnel, each control or information system includes an entry point for information. To ensure security, access to either must be controlled by establishing a formidable defense at the access point. For an information system, this is called, Enclave Boundary Engineering.

“Enclave Boundary Engineering separates one or more functional controls or information enclaves that limit a ship’s exposure to cyber risk should it encounter a cyber-threat,” said Williford.

The ability to isolate components aligns to the NAVSEA vision of configuring a ship’s control systems to the cyber-threat. Similar to a ship's flooding response, where condition Yoke or Zebra isolates areas affected by flooding, a ship's cyber condition Yoke or Zebra would defend enclaves or systems not yet affected, segregating systems under cyber-attack and preventing lateral movement to other systems. This approach will enable ship operators to continue the fight by using securable enclaves and to recover full system capabilities more quickly if a cyber-attack occurs.

“NAVSEA is planning to use common capability tools across multiple enclaves to harden those areas and mitigate cyber risk to a very low level using a defense-in-depth concept to protect those critical components ensuring mission assurance,” said Williford.

Transforming this NAVSEA vision into reality requires extensive coordination between NAVSEA, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), since each of the systems commands have cognizance over different ship systems. For NAVSEA, that collaboration is underpinned by its warfare centers from Philadelphia to Port Hueneme, California, which provide several important support functions from acquisition to in-service engineering support.

Boundary Protection Procurement. The third element of NAVSEA’s strategy, Boundary Protection Procurement, reflects the command’s judicious procurement of boundary software and hardware necessary for the protection of entry points for control, information and machinery control systems which also provide situational awareness to the ship’s crew.

Whether it is enhanced operating systems software, changes in how requests for information access a system or new hardware providing added protection, all require testing and certification for shipboard use. This focus extends to both in-service and new construction ships and is led by the knowledge resident in Naval Surface Warfare Centers (NSWC) in Philadelphia and Dahlgren, Virginia.

“We’re leveraging NSWC Dahlgren’s expertise in weapons systems integration and NSWC Philadelphia’s in hull, mechanical and electrical systems to provide the Navy cybersecurity solutions,” said Naval Surface Warfare Center executive director Don McCormack.

Cybersecurity Vulnerability and Resolution Test Capability. The last element of the strategy, Cybersecurity Vulnerability and Resolution Test Capability, ensures the control of information systems changes work as intended. NAVSEA’s warfare centers in Dam Neck, Virginia, and Carderock, Maryland, perform systems testing. The command’s centers of excellence in Corona and Port Hueneme, California, perform metrics and onboard systems assessments.

“Our focus will be on integration of cybersecurity in our products throughout their lifecycle; certification, assessment, and accreditation of our systems. We are developing a culture of cybersecurity procedural compliance,” said McCormack.

Each element of NAVSEA’s strategy represents an important role in enhancing a ship’s defensive systems. Combined, they produce a framework of isolatable and defendable enclaves adaptable to address potential cyber=threats. These initiatives are prioritized to judiciously use taxpayer money for affordable capabilities while achieving the largest cybersecurity gains as the building, testing and fielding of defensive systems for all ship’s systems continue.

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