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CHIPS Articles: Army engineers examine cyber defense technologies

Army engineers examine cyber defense technologies
By Jasmyne Douglas, CCDC C5ISR Center Public Affairs - September 17, 2020
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 15, 2020) – Army Futures Command (AFC) is reviewing technologies that can improve the Department of Defense (DOD)’s information network resiliency during this year’s Network Modernization Experiment (NetModX 20) taking place at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, through Oct. 2.

Engineers and scientists from the https://www.nrl.navy.milCommand, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – will use NetModX 20’s fail-safe environment to assess the Center’s Autonomous Cyber and Information Trust projects. The capabilities are part of the C5ISR Center’s defensive cyber effort, which works to safeguard access to the network by reestablishing and maintaining the security of degraded, compromised or threatened DoD cyberspace.

“NetModX provides a great opportunity for us to get out there and make sure that we are aligned with what the Army and AFC wants in regards to testing early and testing often, and getting our engineers into those tactical-like environments to ensure that we are putting ourselves in the right mindset for the Soldiers as end users,” said Jonathan Santos, chief for the C5ISR Center's Information Security Branch. “We want to ensure that we can protect against any future adversary that we are going to come up against.”

Autonomous Cyber is a collection of software technologies that equips Soldiers with machine learning, improving their ability to make informed cyber decisions. Sanae Benchaaboun, the C5ISR Center engineer leading the project at NetModX 20, said the technology will allow Soldiers to proactively defend the network “at machine speed” against adversaries and machine learning-enabled cyberattacks.

“In the battlefield of the future, the expectation is that military networks will operate in a heavily contested environment with enemies attempting to infiltrate and attack friendly networks and systems,” Benchaaboun said. “Human cyber defenders will likely need support to defend the network and intervene where human action may not be possible. At NetModX 20, the Autonomous Cyber team plans to evaluate three components of the program that use artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to support the human cyber defender in the tactical battlefield.”

Those three components – Autonomous Vulnerability Detection Agents, Cyber Response Recommendation Software for S6 Officer and Cyber Machine Learning Architecture – will work together to provide Soldiers with the ability to mitigate and detect vulnerabilities, automate steps within the military decision-making process for Army Cyber Command’s Cyber Electromagnetic Activity cell and detect and deploy cyberattack mitigation solutions for Army networks and systems.

During the experiment, engineers will also examine Information Trust, which validates the security of data that passes through the Army’s network to assess it originates from a trusted source, ensuring it has not been modified through unauthorized means. Wendy Choi, the C5ISR Center engineer leading the project, said the capability will enable Soldiers to make “critical, real-time battle decisions.”

“The primary objective of Information Trust during NetModX 20 is to assess the viability of blockchain technologies over a variety of radio waveforms in real-world tests,” Choi said. “This will assist in determining the sustainability of using such technology in a tactical environment, as well as gathering metrics on host and network resource usage.”

NetModX is an annual field-based experimentation event that informs acquisition decisions, Army science and technology specifications, requirements and strategies. It also serves as an accountability event for the C5ISR Center, explained Michael Monteleone, the center’s director for Space and Terrestrial Communications.

“In the past, the Army science and technology community would work on technology for years and years before anyone saw the outcomes of those projects,” he said. “NetModX and similar experiments allow us to get out of the labs and demonstrate technologies early and often. We can learn how the technologies work in a real-world scenario, and evaluate and adjust course as necessary, making sure we’re making the right decisions for the Army and for the taxpayers.”

Lessons learned from the experiment will enable the Network Cross-Functional Team and programs of record to make decisions regarding Capability Sets 25 and 27 – a collection of network capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct Soldier feedback, scheduled to be fielded in 2025 and 2027.

For more information regarding the C5ISR Center’s defensive cyber efforts, contact the C5ISR Center Public Affairs Office at usarmy.apg.ccdc-c5isr.mbx.pao@mail.mil.

Army senior leaders interested in receiving reports generated as a result of this and other experiments at NetModX 20 should contact the C5ISR Center’s Future Capabilities Office at usarmy.apg.ccdc-c5isr.mbx.stcd-ost-fco@mail.mil.

Staff Sgt. Brian F. Wolff, an embedded noncommissioned officer within the C5ISR Center, conducts testing on the Autonomous Cyber system during NetModX 20 taking place at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in July 2020. The defensive cyber effort works to safeguard access to the network by reestablishing and maintaining the security of degraded, compromised or threatened DOD cyberspace. (Photo Credit: Jasmyne Douglas, C5ISR Center Public Affairs)
Kim Wong, a C5ISR Center engineer supporting the Autonomous Cyber effort, conducts testing during NetModX 20 taking place at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in July 2020. Autonomous Cyber equips Soldiers with machine learning and helps to improve their ability to make informed cyber decisions (Photo Credit: Jasmyne Douglas, C5ISR Center Public Affairs)
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