How to Train the 21st-Century Cyber Warrior

George Franz, Accenture Federal Services

George Franz, Accenture Federal Services

The U.S. military’s cyber warriors need the best training tools and virtual battlefields that industry, academia, and government partners can provide if they’re going to stay ahead of America’s fastest-evolving foes.

Our adversaries are ruthless, skillful, and clever — and comparatively unconstrained by the legal or ethical considerations under which U.S. forces operate. Russia and China have both used cyberattacks below the level of armed conflict to advance their strategic goals without directly confronting America’s military dominance. Our networks, our economy, even our democracy itself are under daily attack from these carefully calibrated gray zone tactics.

How can America prevail? The way we always have, by making the best use of our own asymmetric advantage: our people. The Department of Defense (DoD) needs to increase and hone the skills of its 154-active duty, guard, and reserve national mission teams — the units that fight the nation’s battles in cyberspace every day.

To fight and win in cyberspace, these units must have the right platform to respond to rapidly emerging threats. Our forces need a training platform where they can quickly and securely prepare for cyber intrusions and fight back.

For example, the Intelligence Community collects sensitive information on a new “zero day” malware and how the adversary intends to employ their attack tools. The DoD needs the ability to load this malware into a training environment, so that they can train and rehearse ways to counter the emerging threats – without the enemy seeing this activity. Current training systems are limited in the ability to do this rapidly and easily.

The terrain on which cyber conflicts are fought shifts daily as new technologies are deployed and new vulnerabilities discovered. By understanding and exploiting that terrain better than our adversaries, U.S. forces can maintain the same dominance in the information domain they have long enjoyed on land, sea, and in the air and space.

To achieve this edge, a cyber training environment is needed that is adaptable, tailorable, and scalable — and future-proofed by an agile development process which puts upgrades requested from the field into the field in days or weeks, not years.

Where We Need To Be

Frequent training that looks and feels real keeps skillsets and tradecraft fresh and free from atrophy. An on-demand range of customizable tools makes it possible to tailor training for specific and evolving needs from U.S. forces anywhere in the world.

Units don’t have time to build and run ranges. They must have automated menus to mix and match the right environments and training objectives to spin up training rapidly.

And the training environment must accommodate the fluid team dynamics of cyber warriors, working as well for small teams and individuals as it does for larger units and headquarters. Ideally, an individual or unit should be able to log into the system, access scenarios stored for all the training activities, set up individual training, group exercises or teaming scenarios, and perform them — done easily from their own facilities anywhere in the world.

Cyber warriors play an increasingly central role in multi-domain operations. Creating environments for cyber operators and maneuver commanders to train together creates an essential interchange of ideas and techniques and strengthens how different teams communicate and fight together.

Advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning must be used to measure performance, adjust tactics, and present decision scenarios to commanders with instantaneous feedback.

How Do We Get There?

The key is for the DoD to look outside itself and incorporate commercial innovation into its cybersecurity training. Historically, government agencies have been slow to adopt emerging technologies and commercial best practices, but this is starting to change.

Government agencies are increasingly turning to recognized leaders in cybersecurity to support the training and readiness of DoD’s Cyber Mission Forces. They are recognizing that in order to achieve world class cyber training, they will need to make a greater investment in cloud, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and DevSecOps (development, security and operations) – expertise that Accenture brings to its defense clients.

This will be a multi-billion-dollar investment over many years. The good news is through agile development processes, the capabilities can be built incrementally and evolve as new threats evolve.

Most important to the success of a next-generation training platform is a clear and articulate data strategy. In order to enable the deployment of a global system, there must be the right, secure, hybrid hardware and cloud architectures in place.

If there isn’t the right cloud environment, the enterprise will never be big enough. You can’t start to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning unless you have the right architecture. If you don’t have a good data management strategy to capture all the data and telemetry, you can’t have the data to apply advanced tools or analytics to it.

If the right cloud environment doesn’t exist to support multi-domain convergence for units dispersed around the world, the volume and velocity of data that will be generated will overwhelm more traditional server-based architectures.

Only by investing in such a new cyber training environment can our 21st-century cyber warriors be equipped to meet evolving challenges.

Retired Maj. Gen. George Franz is a managing director in Accenture Federal Services and the cybersecurity lead for AFS’ national security business. Before joining AFS, Franz was the director of operations for U.S. Cyber Command and led the planning and execution of global Defense Department and interagency offensive and defensive global network cyberspace operations. Prior to his role as director for U.S. Cyber Command, Franz served as commanding general for the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command.

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