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DISA Defending, Improving DOD Network, Director Says

Jan. 16, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Information Systems Agency's mission is to provide, operate and defend global command and control and information-sharing capabilities for the entire Defense Department, national-level leaders and coalition partners, the agency's director said.

Woman standing at a lectern speaks and gestures.
Norton Speaks
Navy Vice Adm. Nancy A. Norton, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network, speaks at an AFCEA-sponsored network luncheon in Washington, D.C., Jan. 16, 2020.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 200116-D-UB488-001

Navy Vice Adm. Nancy A. Norton, who also serves as commander of the Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network, spoke at an AFCEA-sponsored network luncheon in Washington today.

DISA is eliminating obsolete technology, improving interoperability and transforming DOD full-spectrum operations in space and cyberspace and on land, in the air and at sea, she said, to help the department prepare for the next conflict.

Antenna set up in desert
Point Terminal
A SIPRNet/NIPRNet access point terminal is set up for the Army's Network Integration Evaluation at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Nov. 2, 2011.
Photo By: Claire Schwerin, Army
VIRIN: 111102-O-ZZ999-540

Norton outlined DISA's efforts at supporting business reform.

National Background Investigation Services provides clearances for those working in and for DOD, she said, noting that before, NBIS evaluated at periodic intervals. Today, she said, DISA is helping to provide continuous security evaluation of cleared personnel.

Industry partners helped DISA develop a secure, isolated cloud platform which denies adversaries the opportunity to introduce malware onto the network, the admiral said, noting the previous practice was for users to access the internet from traditional desktop browsers. If attackers try to introduce malware, she explained, the cloud quarantines malicious code and content.

A man looks at computer screens.
Screen time
A Marine logs on to the network inside the Pentagon, Jan. 15, 2020.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 200115-D-UB488-002

To ensure people on the network are validated, users are required to use common access cards and multifactor authentication, Norton said. Furthermore, contextual and biometric information-gathering sensors help ensure that safe and authorized activity is taking place on the network.

DISA blocks about 1.5 billion attempts to attack DOD’s vast network occur each day, the admiral said.  "It keeps us busy," she added.

"Some organizations prioritize speed of delivery at deployment over cybersecurity," she said. But for DISA, she said, cybersecurity is of the utmost importance. "Industry must incorporate cybersecurity into every step of the development process," she said, "as well as the supply-chain management."

Soldiers stand in group in desert
Soldiers from the Network Cross-Functional Team assess the waveform strength of several mobile ad hoc network radio signals during the Rapid Innovation Fund capstone event at Yakima Training Center, Wash., Sept. 14, 2019.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 191226-A-A4416-001

About 16,000 military, DOD civilian and contractors employees, work at DISA in locations around the world, including at all the combatant commands, Norton said. DISA's total budget for fiscal year 2019 was $10.9 billion, and for fiscal 2020, it increases to $11.8 billion.

Norton said the next big step is to leverage artificial intelligence for network operations, an endeavor that's already well underway.