Navy Admiral: Cybersecurity Requires Diversity in Workforce

By Sandra I. Erwin
Vice Adm. Jan Tighe

The Pentagon is drawing up new battle plans to combat malicious hackers and is spending billions of dollars hardening military information systems. But as network attackers find new vulnerabilities in Defense Department systems, officials recognize that a key weapon needed to win these shadowy cyber wars is the ability to think and act very quickly.

“We have to be able to innovate faster than the enemy,” said Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and U.S. 10th Fleet.

The threats now posed by network intruders are so significant that the Pentagon needs to broaden its thinking about how it will fight back, and that means it will need a diverse pool of talent from all age groups, genders and cultural backgrounds, Tighe said March 8 during a keynote speech at the Women in Defense annual national conference in Arlington, Virginia.

“We have to have a diversity of thought, a diversity of experiences, ages, culture,” she said. “Innovation comes from not everyone being cut from the same cloth.”

The conventional wisdom is that it the military needs to beef up its cyber workforce with young, tech savvy people. But the challenge calls for a broader approach, Tighe said. Adversaries are agile, and the Defense Department would benefit from diversity of thinking, she added.

The talent gap in the Defense Department is “not necessarily an age thing as it is an educational thing,” Tighe said. “You have people who don’t understand how their behaviors online might generate vulnerabilities for our missions.”

That is not a generational issue, she said. Young people understand technology as users, and “have no fear,” Tighe said. In online gaming, for instance, “Everyone is anonymous so you can do or say whatever you want. Those are the people coming into the force who get on computers and can become a vulnerability for us.”

The Defense Department has launched many new educational programs aimed at all age groups about the potential dangers that their behaviors create, “such as the risk of plugging in their iPods, of leaving unclassified systems unattended,” Tighe said. From the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down, there are programs in place, and more in the works, to deal with this problem, she said.

One of the newest efforts is the development of aptitude tests to evaluate personnel. Tighe said the Navy uses these tests to identify sailors who might be suited to learn foreign languages. “We are working on an aptitude test for cyber,” she said. This is a complex undertaking. “It’s multidimensional. We have so many cyber jobs. It’s not knowledge based but aptitude based. How do you know someone will thrive in this dynamic environment?” she asked.

The sophistication of cyber attacks and their potential consequences have drawn the attention of senior leaders, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who recently announced new initiatives to attract tech talent. The Pentagon also is seeking a funding boost for cybersecurity, with about $35 billion proposed for the next five years.

Over the past several years, Tighe said, the Pentagon has seen hostile cyber acts “starting to shape up into something that really does look like a military capability.”

The military cannot afford to be reactive, she said. “We have seen disruptive capabilities out there: The destruction of information, the physical destruction of equipment, and all that is within the realm of possibility in cyberspace.”

The Pentagon is taking many steps to prepare for cyber wars, but Tighe fears the enemy is moving much faster. “We have to find a way to get ahead of these problems,” she said. “Every day we’re fighting the fight, but we have to look far enough out to prepare ourselves for what’s coming. If we fail to innovate in this space, we lose.”

Photo: Sandra Erwin

Topics: Cyber, Cybersecurity

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