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August 16, 2010

Strengthening the Nation's Defenses Against Cyber Attacks

information operations analysts conducting computer forensicsAPL information operations analysts conducting computer forensics

Cyberspace—hundreds of thousands of globally interconnected computers, servers, routers, switches, and fiber-optic cables—connects our modern society, providing critical support for the nation’s economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security. Yet, cybersecurity risks pose some of the most serious economic and national security challenges of the 21st century. APL is working on multiple strategic and technological efforts to mitigate this risk, including designing and evaluating systems that will protect, analyze, and share cyber data and identify threats to cyber operations.

Today, cyber threats come from terrorist groups using the Internet for recruitment, planning, and propaganda, and from nation-states that have the equipment, skills, and intent to develop cyber forces as a new form of attack. In response to this threat, the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative was created by presidential directive in January 2008 to bridge historically separate cyber defense and intelligence missions. In 2009, the White House Cyberspace Policy Review called on the federal government to continue the initiative’s work to create a cohesive defense against cyber attack. APL is applying its systems engineering expertise by building architectures for systems that will enable rapid, interorganization analysis and sharing of cyber data; by identifying and exploring difficult research problems; and by developing objective ways to measure the nation’s cyber defense progress.

The Laboratory is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division to develop a new architecture that will enable the government and industry to more effectively protect information and services connected to the Internet. Collaborating with multiple sponsors across the homeland security, intelligence, and defense communities as well as private industry, APL engineers are determining the capabilities of existing systems and designing and evaluating new architectures and systems to detect and defeat malicious attacks against critical national information assets.

APL is also developing information sharing and analysis systems that will enable cybersecurity analysts across the government and private sectors to more efficiently collect, analyze, and disseminate information about cyber threats. This effort includes working with the U.S. Computer Emergency Team to understand and model the critical information flows within and among cybersecurity agencies. Other efforts include working with the National Information Exchange Model, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to develop, disseminate, and support enterprise-wide information exchange standards and processes that will help jurisdictions more effectively share critical information in emergency situations.

The ability to accurately identify the source of a communication is vital to cybersecurity. APL is leading the development of technical specifications for identity management for the federal government and using the APL Global Information Grid (GIG) test bed to demonstrate and evaluate potential solutions while also spearheading multiple interagency pilot programs to implement identity management technologies.

Evaluating current and new cyber applications is a critical element of cyber preparedness, and APL draws on its expertise in precision testing and evaluation methods and procedures to develop new ways to assess cyber defense efforts. When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency solicited ideas on how to create a National Cyber Range, APL led a team to propose novel ways to build and instrument a test range that will provide researchers with the quality of scientific data required to make significant advancements in the field. The National Information Assurance Evaluation Center (NIAEC), located on the APL campus, offers valuable insight into cyber vulnerability. The Laboratory also teams with the GIG Information Assurance Portfolio Office to help measure and maximize return on DoD-wide investments in information assurance.

Presentation in APLís NIAEC Presentation in APL's NIAEC

Looking to the future, APL staff are playing a leading role in shaping future cyber system design as key members on national research committees and by conducting workshops where government sponsors can solicit new and promising ideas. In 2009, APL brought together cybersecurity experts and leading researchers from other analytic fields for the Computational Cyberdefense in Compromised Environments workshop to exchange ideas and identify non-cyber fields of research that could have applicability in the cybersecurity realm. On multiple fronts, the Laboratory’s efforts are on the leading edge of providing critical contributions to a more secure cyber environment.