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AF focuses on fending off cyberattacks

Jul. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Official Photo : Dr Mica Endsley
Mica Endsley (Andy Morataya / Air Force)
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With the Air Force predicting 200 million cyberattacks per year by 2025, cyber will take priority as the service tries to fend off attacks while becoming more reliant on automation.

“Cyber is the big elephant in the room, the thing that underlines everything that we’re doing, and it’s a very significant source of concern in terms of potential vulnerabilities to be threatened by ... persistent attacks that we’re seeing today in the cyber world,” Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley said July 11.

A recent Air Force report called “Global Horizons” says new pieces of malware have increased more than tenfold, from 9 million in 2007 to more than 100 million in 2012. More than 200,000 new malicious programs are registered each day.

The report reflects a connection to the Air Force’s “Cyber Vision 2025,” released in December under then-Air Force Chief Scientist Mark Maybury, which recommends the Air Force invest heavily in its future cyber professional workforce, both in numbers and expertise.

As the cyber mission grows, the career field cannot accept personnel — both civilian and military — without a prerequisite technical foundation: a minimum requirement of 50 percent cyber-specific foundational degrees, with the remaining 50 percent of individuals to have earned at least a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree.

The report also says it is critical that the Air Force understand how to implement an optimal combination of human and automated functions in the administration of large information infrastructures.

While cyber must be managed across all domains — air, space, and global command control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — airmen should complement these automated systems, not be replaced by them, Endsley said.

“We need to look at ways we can use automation to really improve how we are doing our processes,” Endsley said. “What works really well is when the automation integrates with the information, and provides high levels of situation awareness ... we want to develop technology that really enhances the ability of our airmen.”

Research and prototype testing also will be key to fully integrating weapon systems across air, space, cyber, and command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance domains.

“We think there’s the opportunity to leverage $1.4 trillion in global industry [research and development] ... that’s going to be essential to sustaining our current edge,” Endsley said.

Increasing global research will present the Air Force with increasing competition for high-quality scientists and engineers. By 2018, employment demand for technical talent is estimated to outpace degree production by more than 1 million U.S. jobs, the report states.

The report recommends exploring the feasibility and utility of creating small, independent prototype teams as well as expanding the Laboratory Demonstration personnel program by recruiting scientist and engineering professionals with advanced degrees to retain the top talent.

“I was down at Eglin [Air Force Base, Fla.] a few weeks ago, and I saw they’re developing ammunition systems and new approaches, and they’re taking it out on range, right there, testing them, getting back the data, and coming back and being able to iterate their product and their ideas very rapidly ... that’s the kind of thing we need to keep doing,” Endsley said.

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