The Department of Defense (DoD) has taken a significant step towards fortifying the nation’s cybersecurity by submitting its groundbreaking classified cyber strategy to Congress this week, as revealed by the Pentagon on Friday. This highly anticipated strategy marks a pivotal moment, as it follows the release of the National Cybersecurity Strategy earlier this year. While an unclassified “fact sheet” was made available to the public, a comprehensive summary will be provided in the forthcoming months. This article delves into the key elements of the DoD’s new cyber strategy, highlighting its origins, core objectives, and collaborative efforts with allies and partners.
Shaping a Robust Defense
The DoD’s updated strategy rests upon real-world operations, signifying a substantial shift from its previous approach.
Until 2018, the Pentagon’s engagement in cyber operations was limited due to various constraints, including stringent authorities and a cautious risk assessment. However, the implementation of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, coupled with executive policy modifications, streamlined the decision-making process and facilitated the approval and execution of cyber operations.
A Paradigm Shift: “Defend Forward”
The 2018 strategy introduced the groundbreaking concept of “defend forward.”
This approach involves proactively operating on networks beyond U.S. borders, enabling preemptive actions against threats before they can infiltrate domestic networks. By leveraging these streamlined authorities, the DoD aimed to gain a competitive edge over adversaries and preemptively neutralize potential threats. The strategy draws inspiration from Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which showcased the critical role of cyber capabilities in large-scale conventional conflicts.
Key Lines of Effort
The fact sheet accompanying the strategy delineates four interconnected lines of effort that the DoD aims to implement effectively:
Vigilant Defense: Unleashing Cyberspace Campaigns
The primary objective is to defend the nation by launching comprehensive cyberspace campaigns to gain valuable insights into malicious activities. Simultaneously, the DoD will continue to employ “defend forward” tactics, disrupting adversaries’ capabilities to maintain the upper hand. This proactive approach enhances the nation’s ability to detect and neutralize cyber threats before they can cause significant harm.
Strengthening Cyber Capabilities for Conflict
Investing in cyber capabilities that empower the DoD to engage and triumph in conflict situations is of paramount importance. Ensuring the robustness of the Department of Defense Information Network and fostering cyber resilience among the joint force are key focal points. Furthermore, leveraging cyber operations to gain asymmetric advantages for the joint force enhances their preparedness and effectiveness on the digital battleground.
Collaboration and Capacity Building
The DoD’s strategy emphasizes the significance of collaboration with allies and partners to protect the cyber domain collectively. By bolstering the capacity of allied nations, the DoD aims to fortify the global cybersecurity landscape. The strategy introduces “hunt forward operations,” involving the deployment of defensively oriented cyber protection teams from U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) to foreign countries. These teams actively search for threats on their networks, bolstering partner nations’ security while providing valuable intelligence to the United States to safeguard domestic systems against observed threats.
Optimizing Cyber Forces
To achieve enduring advantages in cyberspace, the DoD focuses on optimizing the organization, training, and equipping of cyber forces. Addressing readiness shortfalls among the cyber mission force is a crucial priority. Additionally, the DoD is establishing an acquisition capability for Cybercom, leveraging enhanced authorities granted by Congress. While external voices advocate for an independent cyber service, the DoD strives to find a balance between innovation and integration within the existing framework.
In conclusion, the Department of Defense’s unveiling of its classified cyber strategy marks a significant milestone in the nation’s efforts to strengthen its cybersecurity defenses. This strategy, built upon real-world operations and lessons learned from recent conflicts, introduces the innovative concept of “defend forward” to proactively address cyber threats. By operating on networks beyond U.S. borders, the DoD aims to neutralize potential threats before they can infiltrate domestic systems.
The strategy encompasses four key lines of effort, each playing a vital role in bolstering the nation’s cyber defenses. Vigilant defense through comprehensive cyberspace campaigns enables the DoD to generate valuable insights into malicious activities, while defending forward disrupts adversaries’ capabilities. Strengthening cyber capabilities for conflict ensures the Department of Defense Information Network’s robustness and enhances cyber resilience among the joint force. Collaboration and capacity building with allies and partners foster a collective approach to safeguarding the cyber domain, with hunt-forward operations reinforcing partner nations’ security and providing the United States with valuable intelligence.
Optimizing the organization, training, and equipping of cyber forces is a critical aspect of the strategy, addressing readiness shortfalls and establishing an acquisition capability for Cybercom. Balancing innovation and integration within the existing framework remains a key challenge as external voices advocate for an independent cyber service.
By unveiling this cutting-edge strategy, the Department of Defense is demonstrating its commitment to staying ahead of evolving cyber threats and protecting national security interests. With its focus on proactive defense, collaboration, and capacity building, this strategy sets the stage for a more resilient and secure cyberspace.