For warfighters, the ability to share information in real-time is of the utmost importance. To that end, the Department of Defense has been working to connect sensors from all branches of the U.S. military in an initiative known as Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
But countries don’t go to war alone.
Warfighting is collaborative in an international sense as well. This was seen most recently during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Allies and Ukrainian forces are sharing not just information but also training resources, technology, weapons, and more.
Central to this level of collaboration is a secure mission partner environment that supports the transfer of data regardless of size or complexity. An MPE serves as a bridge between mission partners and the DoD’s JADC2 environment. As geopolitical tensions continue to escalate, the DoD must consider how it can ensure data security in these collaborative environments without impeding the rapid transfer of mission-critical information.
The Role of Cross Domain Solutions
When building a coalition of partners, the DoD can’t just connect them directly to its classified networks. While that would be efficient, it wouldn’t be secure. And yet, rapid data sharing is still required. On the battlefield, getting information to and from mission partners quickly can be a matter of life and death.
As the DoD itself has explained, attempts at collaboration in the past “might have meant fielding a call for an airstrike using one computer attached to one nation’s network, then manually typing information about that airstrike request into another nation’s computer on a different network.” Given the speed of warfare today, such manual processes simply don’t cut it. Missions evolve quickly, and every second counts.
The good news is that cross domain solutions can help the DoD ensure the fast and secure transfer of information from classified networks, like SIPRNet, to its MPE—and vice versa. In simplest terms, cross domain solutions enable high assurance connectivity to networks and classification levels that would otherwise be kept separate.
The DoD already uses cross domain solutions for the internal transfer of information—i.e. taking information gathered at the intelligence level and moving it to the U.S. secret level. It must do the same for information shared with mission partners.
Layering In Added Protections
When information is downgraded and transferred from a classified network to the MPE environment, details—such as those pertaining to how the intelligence was acquired—are stripped out. The mission partner simply gets the most pertinent information—i.e. there’s an adversary at these coordinates—so they can execute the mission at-hand. But sometimes, extra details can slip through the cracks.
The DoD and Intelligence Community rely heavily on Microsoft Office, with pertinent information often shared through PowerPoint briefings and other Microsoft documents. Sensitive information, or even malware, can lurk inside them. Zero trust content disarm and reconstruction, or ZTCDR, should be used in conjunction with cross domain solutions to ensure only safe, relevant information is shared.
PowerPoint and Word documents, for example, may contain copies of previous versions or tracked changes. Meanwhile, images collected by classified resources may have extra detail in their metadata. Recently, a cybersecurity attack was carried out by hiding malicious code in an image taken from the James Webb Telescope. Regardless of the situation, ZTCDR can ensure the information being passed to or from the MPE is clean, with nothing purposely or accidentally hidden in seemingly innocuous intel.
Real-time data analysis offers a leg up on the battlefield, but only if it doesn’t compromise sensitive information. The U.S. and its partners need to be able to get information through the chain of command as quickly as possible in order to execute mission objectives and keep warfighters safe. But partners don’t need to know what sensor—i.e. an undercover operative, satellite, or airplane—acquired the intel at-hand. They simply need to know what to do. They need the information—and they need it now.
Raise the Bar-compliant cross domain solutions can enable fast and secure sharing of mission-critical information. When paired with zero trust content disarm and reconstruction, the DoD can feel confident in its ability to safely move data to and from mission partners without delay.
George Kamis is CTO for Global Governments & Critical Infrastructure at Forcepoint, a software company headquartered in Austin, Texas, that develops computer security, data protection, cloud access security broker, firewall and cross-domain products and services.