The need for full-spectrum cyber operations
Special to Stars and Stripes November 9, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Building upon an adage that a body in motion stays in motion and can accelerate, a body at rest will stay at rest until it is imploded by the pressure created by its competition. This applies both to national defense and business operations. Waiting to respond to either a change or a threat places the body far behind the power curve. Long-term survival is dependent on being ahead of the competition.
The world continues to change rapidly within the five battle domains of air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. The least understood of these domains is cyberspace. It’s continually changing; what is a breakthrough today will be outdated within a couple months. This compares to a phrase out of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “We have to run as fast as we can to stay in place.”
Unlike the first four domains that are fought in a kinetic environment, cyberspace is non-kinetic. It is also the only battlespace that every minute, and on a never-ending basis, extends into civilian businesses and homes. Adversaries can include nation-states, rival businesses, disgruntled employees, criminals, hostile activists, terrorists, hackers, and any other person or organization who wishes to use cyber capabilities to their benefit. All users of cyberspace need to understand the elements of computer network operations, the potential consequences of a non-kinetic attack even if “unsuccessful,” and how to protect themselves from adversarial actions.
Concerning the elements, once computer systems have been established and maintained, Computer Network Operations (CNO) shift to Computer Network Defense (CND), with Response Actions (CND-RA), Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), and Computer Network Attack (CNA). In most developed nations, strict laws apply to non-government entities engaged in conducting CNE, and especially, CNA activities. The reality is strict laws administratively prohibit, but do not prevent, hostile operatives from conducting adversarial activities against their targets.
Whether kinetic or non-kinetic, an attack itself is held to two different standards — ours and our opponents’. We consider an attack an adversary’s failure if we successfully defend against it. Adversaries consider the same attack successful for allowing an analysis of our defenses. Even the slightest exposed weaknesses provide an insight into what needs to be done in the future to overcome or go around those defenses. On this, an adversary’s future strategies will be developed.
In kinetic warfare, we build our perimeters to be strong and able to defend against a hostile attack. We also aggressively patrol outside the perimeters to understand and deter against what may be coming in our direction. We have security alert teams, backup alert forces; and, in reserve, entire commands that can deploy to either destroy or stop an assault. In support, we have the intelligence community watching and analyzing potential threats as they are developing. We don’t want our warriors to become engaged in a fair fight. If they are in a fair fight, then we didn’t do everything possible to give them the advantage.
The same must be true in cyber warfare. In CND, if our front line is only composed of firewalls, then we have already lost to our adversaries. Firewalls are like the Maginot Line in the First World War. They present a firm front line that produces a false sense of security when not blended with other cyber security measures.
The U.S. government has proactive measures established within all subordinate federal organizations with robust means to conduct CND and CND-RA actions. Like the U.S. Cavalry of 150 years ago, Cyber Command has the ability to monitor hostile activity directed against federal organizations and respond with its CNE and CNA capabilities. These capabilities were not developed in a vacuum within the U.S. government. Perhaps not since the Manhattan Project have our government and civilian technology industry been so tightly united in protecting the free world from hostile actors with capabilities that a few decades earlier were beyond comprehension.
The unity of our government and civilian technology industry is critical in protecting our 16 critical infrastructures. The civilian sector is continually challenged to build systems we need, at affordable costs, and able to operate in the toughest of cyber terrain and circumstances. The solutions need to be full spectrum and able to be built upon in order to stay ahead of future cyber threats, using indication and warning protocols to recognize increasing hostile activity. The applications must be highly transferable across the critical infrastructures, military services, and civilian sectors.
Companies like Ultratech Capital Partners treat those challenges not as insurmountable obstacles, but rather as opportunities for innovative solutions. In its full-spectrum mission, Ultratech invests in companies with a laser-like focus on dual-use emerging tech; like quantum technology, artificial intelligence (AI), data and network security, semiconductors and micro-electronics, and energy generation and storage.
The cooperative development and shared applications of technology benefits the entire nation. If any “running as fast as possible to stay in place” is done, it should be by our adversaries and competitors. There is no reason why American corporations and even small businesses are not making use of available technological advancements developed and continually enhanced by our government and civilian technology industry.
Wes Martin, a retired U.S. Army colonel, served as senior antiterrorism officer for all coalition forces in Iraq followed by Headquarters, Department of Army Chief of Information Operations.