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CHIPS Articles: Army testing zero-trust environment amid cloud computing push

Army testing zero-trust environment amid cloud computing push
By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service - July 22, 2020
WASHINGTON -- Army network leaders highlighted progress on cloud computing efforts Wednesday, including a pilot that is testing a zero-trust environment to bolster cybersecurity.

Run by the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, the pilot is using zero-trust principles with Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based version of its software that is being rolled out to the entire Defense Department.

“We stood up a team that’s actually trying to implement a zero-trust environment using an MS365 environment that’s going to help inform our zero-trust architecture,” said Patrick Dedham, deputy to the NETCOM commander.

Today, the Army has a perimeter security-based network that will eventually be replaced with zero-trust security, he said, meaning all users and devices must be authenticated before connecting to the network.

“Zero trust is going to be a journey,” he said during an online panel for the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Conference. “So really the starting point is where do we want to end up on that zero-trust architecture and this pilot will help us inform that.”

Dedham called “zero trust” a poor term in describing the process, and should rather be referred to as “implicit trust.”

In addition to the pilot, NETCOM also expanded its mission after Army Cyber Command shifted its daily network operations to the command in June. NETCOM has a fusion center at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca that now secures and operates the Army’s portion on the DoD Information Network, he said.

NETCOM also has about 15,000 people globally to run its missions at nearly 300 camps, posts and stations that provide support to all Army elements.

Current NETCOM efforts aim to broaden its support to tactical units in a much quicker way.

“We need to get to a DoDIN-based zero-trust architecture and cloud-enabling infrastructure, so that we can really access data and apps from anywhere, any device, securely and safely,” he said.

Digital overmatch

The vision of the Enterprise Cloud Management Office, which was formed late last year to consolidate the Army’s cloud capabilities, is to deliver digital overmatch.

By achieving that, the Army would become stronger, more skilled and better armed in information technology to compete and win against a near-peer adversary, said Paul Puckett, the office’s director.

“In order for us to compete and fight, we need to be able to share data from the foxhole to the enterprise and back,” Puckett said during the panel. “And that requires our systems, our architecture and our cloud to be designed and built to be a global asset and not just a capability at the enterprise.”

Puckett said the Army has already been using cloud computing systems for years.

“In the ECMO, we’re really trying to determine how and where we can achieve repeatability and effectivity in leveraging cloud computing,” he said, “so that we can then scale that effectiveness across the rest of the Army.”

As part of the Army Cloud Plan, which will be released later this year, the office is working on six strategic objectives for using cloud computing to the greatest extent possible, he said.

Among them include accelerating the Army’s data-driven decisions, decreasing the time it takes to field solutions, and establishing cloud design as a core competency. The plan also seeks to optimize the authority to operate, or ATO, process; build adaptive software; and enable transparency of IT assets and their costs.

“These capabilities cannot be isolated to the enterprise, only found in the continental U.S. where we have 5G,” he said. “We need these capabilities for our ability to have online, on-demand computing resources in a network architecture, even at our tactical edge in disconnected environments.”

Soldiers will also need to learn to not rely too much on the cloud, especially on a contested battlefield where there may be intermittent access and very low bandwidth, said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Army Network Cross-Functional Team.

“That’s just the nature of the beast when the enemy gets a vote,” Gallagher said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out, is to make sure that we can leverage the cloud so we can be enabled, but not be overly dependent on the cloud.”

The general also mentioned an ongoing pilot that places several warfighting systems into a containerized environment to help Army Reserve and National Guard units train when they don’t have access to their tactical server.

Soldiers can log into those systems through a web browser to meet training requirements more efficiently.

“They can train in their armories, fire up the systems and be smart about how they do warfighting and decision making,” he said. “The intent there is to leverage the cloud to make our units more effective.”

For more information, visit:
Army Futures Command
Army Research Lab
Network Enterprise Technology CommandRDECOM
Army News Service
Army Cyber Center of Excellence
Army Cyber Institute

Cyber operations specialists from the Expeditionary Cyber Support Detachment, 782nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Cyber), from Fort Gordon, Ga., provide offensive cyber operations during training at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Jan. 18-24, 2018. Army network leaders highlighted progress on cloud computing efforts July 15, 2020, including a pilot that is testing a zero-trust environment to bolster cybersecurity. (Steven Stover)
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