Military leaders, government workers and industry professionals recognize that cybersecurity cannot be understated. Last month, many of these minds—including leaders from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR)—gathered in San Diego at the C4ISR Symposium to discuss how to improve cybersecurity for the fleet.

Personnel on board U.S. Navy ships must work hard to overcome technical limitations. With a significant number of older vessels failing cybersecurity checks due to outdated software, onboard systems are susceptible to a data breach—an event that could put lives and military operations at risk.

Cyber Readiness Team updates the Navy
“The majority of the stuff causing ships to fail inspections at an alarming rate is the old systems, or legacy capabilities, out there that aren’t secure,” said Rob Wolborsky, the executive director of the Fleet Readiness Directorate. “They aren’t secure by the standards of the testers. These testers test the systems to a certain level, as they should, because if we are ever in harm’s way, we need to be able to defend our warfighters.”

To combat these cyberthreats, SPAWAR formed a Cyber Readiness Team. This group will enhance fleet readiness through changes to computer systems and security practices. While lifting the Navy up to industry standards for cybersecurity, however, the CRT must come up with solutions that maintain the standard level of military readiness and enhance the efficiency of daily tasks on board the vessel. The CRT will also make improvements to the ship’s technical infrastructure to better facilitate future changes.

The military is prioritizing ways to enhance defenses against unknown vulnerabilities and make it costly for enemies to introduce weaknesses. “In order to deter the most sophisticated actors, we need to ensure the U.S. maintains the ability to deliver desired mission capabilities in the face of a major cyber attack,” said Gary Burnette, the head of Cyber and Information Operations for SPAWAR.

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Military struggles with IT recruitment
While the CRT prepares onboard computer systems to withstand cyber threats, the military will have to find service members capable of understanding and monitoring these new technologies. Interest in military life declined 20 percent over the past decade, and about 75 percent of the country’s youth failed to meet physical qualifications for service. The pool of tech-savvy candidates is shrinking for public sector jobs as well: Of the people who hold degrees in computer and math sciences, only 4 percent were employed by the government.

Still, Navy officials hope that extensive training of existing personnel will equip the service to handle new systems and quickly adopt future innovations.

“We need to look at investing money in IT training for our sailors,” said Capt. Jose Cisneros, director of communications and information systems at Commander Naval Air Forces. “We don’t have the embedded support we need either. We need to take a look at how we are addressing those problems, too.”

Effective cybersecurity is an ongoing process to adapt to new threats. For the Navy, adhering to evolving standards for software, operating cutting-edge tech and dealing with attacks and malfunctions requires onboard expertise. Training practices must anticipate changes to technology, ensuring that military personnel are ready and able to protect data, even when the mission takes place miles from the nearest IT shop.

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