Last month the College of Information and Cyberspace at National Defense University, located on historic Fort McNair in the nation's capital, hosted their 7th annual Cyber Beacon Conference.
Due to the global pandemic, this was the first year the event was hosted virtually and allowed for a broader audience to participate. This closed event welcomed hundreds of attendees from throughout the national security community, including the U.S. government, industry and academia, as well as allies and partners.
The purpose of the conference was to gather today's top thought leaders and experts on strategic cyberspace issues for discussion and learning. This purpose directly supports the lines of effort of the National Defense Strategy, especially regarding reform and partnership, Joseph L. Billingsley, director of strategic engagement at CIC, a lead planner of the event, said.
This year's conference theme was "Disruption in an Era of Great Power Competition: Pandemic, Infodemic, Space, Cyberspace and Beyond" and builds off of last year's theme of "Preparing for Disruption," Dr. Cassandra C. Lewis, acting chancellor of CIC, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, the executive director of the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission, spoke about the many recommended reforms which have been adopted by the U.S. government and signed into law.
Congressman James Langevin, cyberspace solarium commissioner and co-chair of the Congressional Cyber Caucus, echoed Montgomery's focus on reforms that better position the U.S. to compete in cyberspace. Both Montgomery and Langevin thanked CIC for its enduring support of the commission. CIC hosted the commission's capstone gathering in 2019.
Space Force Maj. Gen. Kim Crider noted the importance of developing the educational pipeline of cyber professionals that can help support the mission of the newest military service. Recent engagement between Space Force and CIC, leveraging existing space domain expertise within CIC, has led to a new pipeline of students, said Billingsley.
"We're very proud of the different organizations and senior leaders who participated in sharing their unique perspectives," Billingsley said, noting that there was good representation from U.S. Cyber Command, the Office of the Chief Information Officer and, for the first time, representation from the Space Force.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Kevin Kennedy, director of operations (J3) for U.S. CYBERCOM, challenged the audience to think about how the U.S. competes in cyberspace with an evolving strategic and operational environment, Billingsley said. Other speakers at the event highlighted the importance of competing with adversaries in a highly contested cyberspace domain, including Thomas Wingfield, Esq., deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy and former acting chancellor of CIC.
Another speaker, John Sherman, the DoD principal deputy chief information officer, said: "History has taught us that advantages are constantly eroding. Nothing gives us the preordained right to supremacy in cyberspace and global competition."
Jeff Moss, who also spoke, is a top leader in the global hacker community. He discussed the role of civil society as allies and force multipliers in pursuit of national security. Moss, who has served as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, also commended the "herculean effort" that Montgomery and Langevin have taken on with the commission.
The hacker conventions that Moss founded, "DEF CON and Black Hat, provide DoD personnel a powerful educational and engagement opportunity, especially with 'villages' dedicated to learning about election security, air and maritime safety and much more," Dr. Joseph H. Schafer, chair of the Information Strategy and Disruptive Technology Department at CIC and retired army lieutenant colonel, said.
CIC students also played a prominent role in the event, which included a student panel for the first time. The panel had U.S. military, interagency, and allied representation. The students at CIC, known as the "Cyber War College," are experienced national security professionals focusing on strategic issues. "As an educator, highlighting our students and their insights was a point of pride," Lewis said.
The conference was also helpful for those across the professional military education community, Billingsley said. For instance, Navy Cmdr. Dan Brown, an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College said: "The knowledge I gained will be an immense help in building my lesson plans and leading classroom discussions."
One attendee, Paul de Souza, president of the non-profit Cyber Security Forum Initiative, described the event as "historic, based on the involvement of the Space Force and so many recognized national leaders in this community, especially Moss, Montgomery and Langevin."
Billingsley agreed with the historic nature of this event and put it into a larger context, saying "our college was first established at the dawn of the computer age in the 1960s as the DoD Computer Institute and included instructors like the legendary Grace Hopper. The school has evolved over more than half a century to meet the evolving challenges our nation faces. If there was one 'take away' from this event, it is that we have much work to be done, and with urgency."
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