Cyber Threat Will Force Pentagon to Buy Computers Faster and Change Culture

The Department of Defense will purchase new computers to win a cyber war

ByMichael Ono
July 21, 2011, 2:48 PM

July 22, 2011— -- There is no doubt that the Pentagon is gearing up for a cyber war and they're planning to purchase new computers with the speed and efficiency that would make Google proud.

Last week, the Department of Defense disclosed a cyber attack in March that exposed a record 24,000 department files. While officials called the incident "mundane" due to the lack of sensitive files stolen in the attack, they anticipate future problems and unveiled a cyber plan that will push the government to replace defense computers at a much faster pace.

Under the new plan the department hopes to transition and replace equipment every 12 to 36 months instead of every seven to eight years, purchasing new hardware in small tiered segments instead of making one massive purchase.

"This is totally feasible and is frankly what's needed," said Jason Epstein who is a lawyer and an expert on cyber security.

All indications are that the threat to the department is real. Vulnerabilities in the system could expose critical weapon systems, allowing foreign governments to steal design plans and use them to build a competing weapons systems, like a stealth fighter.

Expediting the acquisition process would help the Pentagon close the gap in the high tech arms race against shadowy enemies like the hackers who were able to breach the security hardware company RSA which makes keychain security passes for the Pentagon.

Pentagon Hackings Are Warning Shot for Cyber Defense

"The way criminals or people with malicious intent who try to attack are going to be changing over time and the government and the vendors to the government are going to need to continue to stay vigilant to try to stay ahead," said Epstein.

Much like the IT department at work that forces you to use new computers and blackberries every year, the Pentagon is working to mimic that mindset and cut down on bureaucratic red tape.

The Pentagon bureaucracy is notorious for its painfully slow and complicated procurement process. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates made defense procurement reform a key priority during his tenure.

DoD is projected to spend $36.6 billion on information systems and technology in 2011 according to the Federal IT Dashboard, a government website that tracks federal IT spending.

Even President Obama has criticized the government's ability to buy new technology calling the process "horrible" in an off-mic incident while speaking to fundraisers in Chicago this past April.

If the Pentagon were to adopt these new procedures the changes would represent a seismic shift in the way that the department does business.

While plan itself didn't provide details to how the plan would be implemented, Epstein called the plan "refreshing" praising the department's willingness to admit prior weaknesses.

There is no concrete cost estimate yet but the Pentagon wouldn't necessarily need to buy more hardware but rather make smaller purchases more frequently to ensure that portions of their cyber fleet are cutting edge.

To keep pace with the latest threats the plan also encourages the defense department to form tighter partnerships with the private sector.

Pentagon Arming Itself for Cyber War

"To effectively prevent cyber attacks it is important for law enforcement to work with the private sector," said Ross Nadel who is a former prosecutor who made major strides in prosecuting cyber criminals.

Security business experts claim that the private sector will innovate at a faster pace than Pentagon could ever hope to achieve.

DoD is also taking steps to tighten the security of its private defense contracting. Recent attacks at Lockheed Martin and private contractor RSA show that private industry can be used as a dangerous back door into proprietary technology built for the Pentagon.

New rules proposed by the DoD in July require defense contractors with sensitive but non-classified information to adhere to standards put out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which is part of the Department of Commerce.

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