Can cyberspace be mapped? NGA's working on it

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, by its very charter and pedigree, is a mapping agency: providing geographic context that informs intelligence and high-level security decisions. But how can an agency map a domain that doesn't physically exist like any other?

That's a major challenge facing the intelligence and defense communities, according to the nation's chief of intelligence. It's also an area NGA is targeting with an infusion of investment and focus via new programs aimed at innovation.

"A revolution is afoot — it's here now," NGA Director Robert Cardillo said at the GEOINT Symposium in Orlando, Florida, on May 16. "To put our money where our mouth is, we've doubled our In-Q-Tel investment to improve our effectiveness in areas like commercial space, visualization and cybersecurity."

In-Q-Tel essentially is the CIA's research, development and experimentation arm, and NGA's No. 2, Sue Gordan, has a long history with both the CIA and In-Q-Tel. So it should come as no surprise to see renewed ties between the two, nor to see cyber as a target.

That's just part of intelligence community efforts to turn cyberspace into something that's easier to understand, manipulate and maneuver within, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the event on May 17. In sum, intelligence agency officials hope to grasp cyberspace in a way similar to air, sea, space and land.

"One of the challenges, of course, with cyber is that it's hard to see, feel and touch it. It's out there. And we've had tremendous challenges because of that," Clapper said, pointing to the concept of deterrence and trying to apply that to cyber operations. "It's a very hard problem. It isn't like nuclear deterrence where you can see [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and bombers…you can't do that with cyber."

That, Clapper said, is where geoint and NGA come into play.

"Where I think the nexus of cyber and geoint is, is in the depiction of cyber as though it were physical," he said. "When cyber can be graphically portrayed…it's another form of human activity, [which] is to me what can be a very compelling capability in intelligence and a way of reducing uncertainty for decision-makers."

BONUS: Want to hear about how the U.S. Air Force is handling the DOD's cyber challenge of building out an enterprise architecture across all military branches? Join Dr. Frank Konieczny, Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Air Force, for a panel discussion on May 26th at the C4ISR & Networks Conference. For more information, click here.

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