Intelligence and National Security Summit


Above photo, left to right: Moderator Letitia Long and panelists Chris DeMay, Dr. Stacey Dixon, Tina Harrington, and Maj. Gen. John Shaw.

By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was correct: Space is the final frontier. But that frontier is under attack from rogue nation-states, private cyber thieves, and bad non-state actors. Some are seeking financial gain, political influence or the disruption of the world’s most important communication medium; others, like the United States, are in a cyber war to protect the vital cyber interests of the nation and its allies.

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With that mission in mind, cybersecurity experts from the military, federal government and private industry held their annual Intelligence and National Security Summit on September 4-5, co-hosted by AFCEA International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) at National Harbor, Maryland.

American Military University was an event sponsor with several faculty on hand to explain AMU’s two new doctoral programs, Doctor of Strategic Intelligence and Doctor of Global Security. The AMU Professional Development Center was a first-time sponsorship concept to assist attendees to stand out in the evolving field of intelligence and national security.

The first plenary on Thursday, “Challenges and Opportunities in Space,” set the tone for the day. Panelists agreed with Air Force Major General John Shaw, Deputy Commander, Air Force Space Command, who noted “a tectonic shift” in how nations now view the space frontier. In view of the threat posed by several unfriendly nations, maintaining free access to space is “critical,” he said.

The newly created Space Force will formally become an integral member of the U.S. military next week at ceremonies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Standing up the Space Force is one response to that threat, Major General Shaw said. He added that one motto making the rounds among Air Force Space Command personnel is “Cyber and Space: Best Friends Forever.”

Space Force Raises Questions of Challenges and Opportunities and Capabilities

Moderator Letitia Long, chair of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said the Space Force raises several critical questions: 1) What are the challenges and opportunities facing the Space Force and 2) What capabilities do we need to develop the Space Force?

Dr. Stacey Dixon, Deputy Director, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, responded by saying the new challenges include how we do things. She was perhaps recalling the NASA of the 1950s and 1960s, when private vendors did not play a major role in providing technology and hardware for the U.S. space program. Today, she noted, there are “lots of opportunities out there and we don’t have to do it all ourselves.” Many vendors are working well together now, she added.

Tina Harrington, Director National Reconnaissance Office/SIGINT, called that “buy what we can and build what we must.”

This vital partnership between government and private industry has meant “faster and better” results, said Chris DeMay, founder and CTO, Hawkeye 360, a private company that is creating a new class of radio frequency (RF) data analytics.

“Supply chain security is a constant concern” for both government and commercial space technology providers, Harrington said. Some entities have not stayed within the national security supply chain, which can cause problems for vendors and customers alike.

Soon after the plenary ended, a panel of cyber and legal experts took up the topic, “Active Cyber Defense: Whether or Not to Hack Back.”

NSA Official Warns: Global Pandemic of Cyber Attacks Will Get Worse

cyberdefense panel national security summit
From left to right: cybersecurity panel moderator John Carlin and panelists Glenn Gerstell, Adam Hickey, Wyatt Hoffman, and Rich Boscovich.

The discussion began with an ominous warning from Glenn Gerstell, General Counsel at the National Security Agency (NSA). He warned that the “global pandemic” of cyber attacks “will get worse before it gets better.”

Gerstell noted that some five million new devices join the internet daily, making it increasingly difficult to police illegal activities.  The dynamic of securing the internet “is going in the wrong direction,” he warned, enumerating the four leading threats to internet security as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Gerstell also pointed out that today’s cyber thieves are quite adept at disguising their true identity and location. In addition, the establishment of better cyber laws “trails the growth” of criminal cyber activities.

Also, the exponential worldwide growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made it even more difficult to identify bad actors.

Adam Hickey, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice, said it takes six months on average to detect a cyber intrusion. That led Rich Boscovich, Assistant General Counsel, Digital Crime Unit at Microsoft, to ask who’s responsible for security in the private sector and how can we disrupt hackers within the law?

Hickey replied that the FBI has the authority to go after cyber thieves. Just “let us know,” he said.

There Are No Legal Provisions for ‘Hacking Back’

Moderator John Carlin, Partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, pointed out that there are no legal provisions for “hacking back.” He said private firms that attempt to gain revenge on suspected hackers could find themselves breaking the law. One clear example would be to mis-identify the would-be hackers and take down an innocent company’s network.

That gave the panelists and the large audience their most important take-away of the session: It is unwise for a private entity to attempt a counter-attack on its own. As Boscovich underscored, “The liability is enormous.”