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Cybersecurity Expert Discusses DOD's Role in National Security

June 19, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department is involved in its own cybersecurity efforts at every level, and DOD also assists other government agencies, the intelligence community and international partners, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy said.

Thomas C. Wingfield spoke yesterday via remote video at the Defense One Tech Summit.

There are many reasons DOD is helping other government agencies such as the State and Justice departments and the Department of Homeland Security, he said. For example, theft of intellectual property through hacking isn't just an economic problem, because some intellectual property supports defense capabilities, he noted.

A man looks at a computer screen.
Cyber Watch
Air Force Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, a cyber warfare operations journeyman assigned to the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard monitors live cyber attacks on the operations floor of the 27th Cyberspace Squadron, known as the Hunter's Den, at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., June 3, 2017. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.
Photo By: Joseph Eddins
VIRIN: 170603-F-LW859-002C

Wingfield also said DOD monitors election interference on an enduring basis, working with the FBI and DHS on this issue. "It's not just an annoyance or nuisance, but can undermine faith in our democratic system, so we view this as actual threats," he said.

Besides supporting a whole-of-government approach to cyberdefense, Wingfield said DOD must support the warfighters who depend on cyber for everything from planes, tanks and command and control.

If an adversary's cyberattack results in significant infrastructure destruction or loss of life, that would justify an appropriate, self-defense response, he added.

In a dark room, the words "NETWORK INTRUSION!!! Contact Cyber Protection Team ASAP" flash on a computer screen.
Network Intrusion
DOD networks are highly susceptible to attack. Military cyber professionals are trained to defend the network.
Photo By: C. Todd Lopez, DOD
VIRIN: 190626-D-NU123-001

Adversaries might allow their autonomous systems to cause destruction that violates the moral conventions of warfare, he said. In the future, as autonomous artificial intelligence systems become more widespread among allies and adversaries, the speed of cyber has the potential to dramatically accelerate activities on the battlespace, he said.

Wingfield advises that if humans are not in the loop in decision-making, artificial intelligence systems would have to go through extensive moral and ethical training about what might occur if life or infrastructure is threatened, noting that humans would need to be held accountable for what the autonomous systems do. "We don't want to turn into war criminals," he said.