The U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) is moving at lightning speed to harness the advantages of migrating its networks to the cloud, enabling faster data consolidation, broader access to time-sensitive information and operationally significant network integration.
Working closely with Amazon Web Services, IC entities have been pursuing a multi-faceted, multi-year initiative to move its networks to the cloud, an effort which appears to have already massively transformed operations into a new, improved era.
Through its $600 million deal with Amazon going back to 2013, IC leaders are citing successes when it comes to a range of cloud-enabled developments, to include a much-increased ability to analyze legacy systems, integrate new ones and rework information networks, senior intelligence leaders describe. Amazon Web Services is credited with building the CIA’s C2S cloud to gather, access and organize data.
A report from Bloomberg quotes the CIA’s Director of Digital Innovation Sean Roche speaking at an Amazon Conference, saying cloud migration has been “nothing short of transformational,” adding that it has “transformed our ability to build new capabilities.”
In a manner consistent with Roche’s comment, an often-discussed phenomenon seems to inform the push for faster commercial cloud migration — namely that multi-year government developmental programs can run the risk, in some instances, of generating technical systems which might be obsolete by the time they are completed. Commercial innovation, therefore, using an open architecture framework, is intended to allow faster, wide-sweeping upgrades more consistent with the most current and impactful innovations. Commercial security solutions can bring advantages in other respects as well, such as allowing networks to download the most advanced patches or fixes on a faster time frame. At the same time, Cybersecurity experts often make the point that government-inspired innovations, security practices and advances can bring advanced solutions to commercial systems. In fact, an ideal blend, developers emphasize, is to merge government plans, concepts and technological breakthroughs with elements of rapid private sector progress.
The multi-faceted cloud initiative includes data consolidation, reducing the hardware footprint, cyber “hardening” weapons systems and efforts to connect satellite ground terminals more seamlessly with one another; the key concept, of course, is to increase access to otherwise disparate pools of information, share data quickly and give intelligence analysts and combatant commanders options more rapidly. Also of great significance, cloud-improved AI applications can perform real-time analytics and reach fast decisions by comparing new input against a vast database. Drawing upon a two-fold cloud migration strategy which seeks to maximize both decentralized nodes and centralized servers, cloud-enabled operations can achieve seemingly limitless advantages.
There are a variety of respects in which cloud migration, fortified by AI, changes the paradigm for cybersecurity and data access. In one sense, cloud-based systems could potentially increase security challenges if intruders are able to more broadly access large data systems through fewer points of entry. Yet, at the same time, cloud-enabled virtualization can network many security-oriented software applications and other measures able to much more quickly detect anomalies, defend broad networks and counter intrusions. By leveraging cloud technology, this kind of software can simultaneously protect multiple nodes in a more ubiquitous, far-reaching manner. Finally, given the presence of extremely advanced government develop cybersecurity applications, blending commercial and government initiatives may prove to be the best conceivable strategy.
Therefore, cloud migration is widely understood to involve a particular paradox; while cloud technology can enable more seamless or ubiquitous virtualized security systems, it can also bring the risk of exposing larger amounts of data to potential intruders should an attack be met with initial success.
However, this is precisely the kind of challenge expert cloud developers, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, are poised to address. Furthermore, given the effective scope of cloud-oriented security practices and technologies, Amazon’s cloud migration efforts are reportedly already increasing security. For instance, it can increase data sharing within protected networks, while keeping them separate from more vulnerable systems. Also, cloud-enabled security “fixes” can instantly reach entire networks in real-time. In addition, AI and machine learning are rapidly evolving to the point wherein algorithms can interpret “context” to a greater degree and analyze variables thought to be more subjective –such as speech patterns or language nuances — provided there is some kind of precedent or existing information against which to organize and interpret new data.
Commercial cloud technology is already increasing security for US military members and extending added security to the very edge of tactical combat operations by bringing secure networks — such as SIPRnet — to handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets. This enables dismounted soldiers, on-the-move in forward locations, to engage in more secure networking while in combat. It certainly goes without saying that this is something of great potential benefit to the IC.
In fact, this – and the benefits of more dispersed, yet secure mobile networking, was anticipated in a 2013 essay from the United States Army Command and General Staff College. “Clear delineations exist between the permanent networks in garrison locations and the temporary, portable networks employed in tactical environments,” states the essay, called “The Military Applications of Cloud Computing Technologies.” (Maj. Dallas Powell Jr.)
Cloud technology can also expedite helpful kinds of computer automation by offering much wider reach, among other things. For instance, Air Force developers are using advanced computer automation to replicate human behavior online for the specific purpose of luring and tracking potential intruders. Algorithms can create online activity which resembles that of an individual user, leading intruders to think they are tracking a person when, in fact, they themselves are being tracked.
Also, AI can be used to perform real-time analytics on incoming traffic which may contain malware, viruses or any kind of attempted intrusion. If the source, characteristics or discernable pattern of a cyberattack are identified quickly, cyber defenders are better positioned to respond. The cloud offers an opportunity to concurrently perform these functions across vast numbers of interconnected “nodes.”
By facilitating improved satellite ground terminal interoperability and network data sharing, cloud-based systems can also speed up SATCOM connectivity and allow command and control technology to expedite directives to satellites, industry developers have explained.
In yet another instance, the Navy is working with CISCO to leverage AI-empowered cloud technology to offer instant connectivity between ship-based networks, command and control and on-board systems such as engines, developers explain. The concept, now being explored through laboratory prototypes, is to use AI and cloud-enabled real-time analytics to measure on-board systems against a historical database filled with information of great relevance to ship technologies.
Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute – The Lexington Institute
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By Kris Osborn