NEWS

'Terabyte of Death' cyberattack against DoD looms

The vast, global networks of the Defense Department are under constant attack, with the sophistication of the cyber assaults increasing, the director of Defense Information Systems Agency said Jan. 11.


Army Lt. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, who is also the commander of the Joint Force Headquarters, Department of Defense Information Networks, described some of the surprises of being in his post, which he has held since 2015.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Alan R. Lynn (Photo from U.S. Army)

Lynn spoke at a luncheon of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Washington Chapter. He said,

We do an excellent job of defending the [Department of Defense Information Networks], but the level of attacks that we've seen actually was really truly surprising and it still continues to surprise me just how robust the attacks have become.

'Terabyte of Death' Attack: A Matter of When, Not If

A few years ago, getting a 1-gigabyte or 2-gigabyte attack at the internet access point was a big deal, he said. "Now, we get 600-gig attacks on the internet access points and unique, different ways of attacking that we hadn't thought of before," he added.

The Defense Department is fortified against even larger attacks, he said.

"There's now, we would call it the 'terabyte of death' — there is a terabyte of death that is looming outside the door," he said. "We're prepared for it, so we know it's coming."

He noted, "It's just a matter of time before it hits us."

(U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Kayla Rorick.)

Scale of DoD Networks 'Massive'

Lynn, who retires next month, said the size of the DoD network is something else that surprised him. He described it as a "massive," 3.2 million-person network that he has to defend or help support in some way.

"There's something happening every second of every minute globally that you can't take your eye off of," he said.

The department needs agile systems for the warfighter to stay ahead of an adversary that is evolving and moving, he pointed out.

There are challenges to finding solutions that scale to the DoD Information Networks, he said. A commercial solution that works for a smaller operation might not translate into something that is effective for the worldwide DoD networks, he explained.

Related: Why it's a big deal that Cyber Command is now a combatant command

DISA, he pointed out, is a combat support agency responsible for a multitude of networks. He cited as examples the networks between the drones and the drone pilots, or the F-35 "flying mega-computer" that needs a lot of data and intelligence, or the "big pipes" that connect various entities to missile defense.

He explained how commercial mobile platforms have been modified for warfighters to accommodate secret or top secret communications.

"Anywhere they are, globally, if they've got to make a serious decision right now and it means seconds, that's there and available to them," he said, adding that mobile platforms are becoming "more and more capable as we go."

Warfighting, which now includes streaming drone video feeds, is happening on mobile devices, he said. "It's pretty cool to watch," he remarked.

While acknowledging DISA does do "a lot of cool IT stuff," Lynn said all of the efforts support a singular focus. "At the end of the day, it's about lethality," he said.

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