Defense Department leaders discussed the importance of cyberspace to national security, allies and partners and what DOD is doing to provide protection.
Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, and Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, discussed cyber capabilities and the future of warfare during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Dec. 4.
In just the past 11 months, cyberattacks were launched on SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline and many other companies and government entities, Nakasone noted.
Those attacks, combined with Russia and China's influence and meddling with operations, indicate that the United States "has to compete in cyberspace. We can't stay and be passive. We have to compete because our adversaries are competing."
The other component is that the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command cannot provide cybersecurity on their own, he said. Success will come through cooperation with inter-agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, industry, allies and partners.
The year 2018 was pivotal for the department, with the publication of the "DOD Cyber Strategy," containing a concept called "defend forward," he said.
"The idea is that we would operate in cyberspace outside the United States, against our adversaries before they could do harm to us," Nakasone said.
Defend forward also involves the idea of "persistent engagement," which is informing allies and partners about cyber threats and helping to reduce them, he said.
Defending forward is also about attributing attacks to malicious actors and imposing costs on them to make it very difficult to operate, he said.
As for attribution, Nakasone said that his team would release to the public unclassified information as to where the attacks have been coming from, such as malware from China, in order to expose the misdeeds.
Gilday said that cyber security is inextricably linked to everything the joint forces do, from weapons platforms to network communications.
Cyber security enables decision advantage, which is the ability to decide and act faster than the other guy, the admiral said.
To maintain that advantage, the Navy and the other services are working with industry, particularly small companies, that are working at great speed and agility on cutting-edge technologies with applications for cyber security, he said.
Gilday also mentioned the important role of the cyber workforce.
"Our people are the best in the world and our job is to make sure that we not only attract and recruit the absolute best that our nation has to offer, but that we also retain them," he said.