At this year’s NetModX event, the U.S. Army sought to mature two technologies with a focus on cyber defense and soldier data integrity. (Justin Emers/US Army)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is developing proven technologies designed to provide Soldiers with assurance of information in the tactical environment for their networks and the information they receive.
Unlike a local network, a tactical network must be dynamic in that it must be able to be established and dismantled rapidly, while also withstanding detection from adversary capabilities such as cyberattacks and electromagnetic interference.
As a result, the Army is developing tools to ensure soldiers receive information that is credible and recommends the correct course of action to defend the network.
The U.S. Army is testing tools for its cyber modernization experiment at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, which began in May and runs through July 30. NetModX activities are primarily used by the testing and scientific community to introduce their systems into operational environments and adapt their technology on the fly as they are probed by real-world threat simulation units, which are then handed over to Soldiers for testing. It provides an opportunity to reduce risk before transferring the technology to soldiers for input and use.
“With military networks expected to operate in a highly competitive environment, whether denied, or disrupted…adversaries continue to infiltrate and attack our networks and IT systems. Therefore, human cyber defenders need assistance to proactively defend networks at machine speed, ” Josep Chen, a computer engineer at the U.S. Army’s C5ISR Center, told reporters. NetModX activities can facilitate field-based risk reduction experiments to support research efforts.
One technique, called information trust, is designed to assure soldiers that the information they receive, such as fire calls, GPS locations or messages, is trustworthy and cannot be tampered with by adversaries.
The event tested three aspects, including an attestation service focused on insider threats, and modeled on a zero trust architecture, a component focused on data provenance, and one using machine learning to detect anomalies to ensure data integrity.
Another technology tested, called autonomous networking, detects network anomalies on tactical networks. While the NetModX event included the technology last year, officials said the tools matured this year and introduced enhanced functionality.
Information trust tools took off last year and are still being offered to warfighters.
This year, autonomous networks have gone beyond detecting and preventing malicious cyber incidents to provide a course of action for tactical cyber warfighters.
“This year’s mitigation is nothing like last year. Last year stopped a bad actor or something like that. This year, it’s more of a course of action, it’s not just a course of action, it’s multiple lines of action, cyber defenders It will be possible to choose which path they want to take,” Sana Benchaborn, a computer engineer at the C5ISR Center and head of the NetModX 2021 Autonomous Network, told reporters. “It’s up to the defense or the warfighter to choose if they want to run it automatically or just take some actions and recommendations and go from there to execute them.
Army officials say the idea is to foster greater human-machine cooperation, in which machines advise soldiers of their choice who can let the machines stop an intrusion or take action.
The next step for these technologies is to move them to events such as Cyber Missions starting later this summer, as well as future iterations of Army Program Fusion, where Soldiers will have the opportunity to test them and suggest improvements.
The US Army is also using the NetModX tool to de-risk the business thread of emerging technologies for Project Fusion 2021 and Project Fusion 2022.
Ultimately, the plan is to make these technologies available in the command post computing environment, a Web-enabled system that integrates current mission systems and procedures into a single user interface.
The Army’s likely goal is to fold these technologies into Capability Set ’27 or possibly Capability Set ’25, the Army’s approach to modernizing its tactical network, delivering incremental technological improvements every two years, officials said.