Cyber on I-C-E
In the midst of the battle for the Stanley Cup, the action between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights isn't all that different from what the NSA's cyber defenders face on a daily basis. Like hockey defensemen stopping the opposing offense from gaining the zone, cyber defenders need a high degree of skill paired with hyper vigilance to predict, identify, assess, and stop an adversary's attempts to gain access to critical networks. Much like goalies Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury, cyber defenders must develop a deep understanding of their adversary so that they can be prepositioned to block any attempt to gain access.
For an NHL team this happens in an arena, but for the National Security Agency it happens in the NSA/CSS Cybersecurity Threat Operations Center (NCTOC) -- screaming fans are not included. It is here, in NCTOC's 24/7 operations center, that the nation's Ovechkin-level, cyber all-stars face off against some of the world's most aggressive and complex cyber-attacks. And of course every team needs a strong coach and at NSA, one of these coaches is Maurice Bland, Deputy Chief of the Cybersecurity Operations Group. In Bland's first thirty days, he observed three truths about the mission- people are the most important resource, the demands on this work never cease, and the nation's adversaries are relentless in their efforts to penetrate our networks. Much like being out on the ice, the players are the key and the competition keeps getting stronger.
Maurice Bland is Deputy Chief of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) Cybersecurity Operations Group where he leads integrated cybersecurity operations that enable high impact operational effects in the cyber domain and deny adversaries the ability to influence, exploit or threaten cyber and information infrastructure domains within the bounds of NSA's authorities.
So how does someone like Bland lead a workforce tasked with countering some of the world's most intense cyber-threats? According to him, it's through three principles- I-C-E. (So maybe the NSA and the Stanley Cup finalists have something else in common.) "ICE represents integration, collaboration, and empowerment. These are my expectations for the workforce as well as the principles that are at the foundation of my leadership," Bland explains.
Integration is more than just knowing who your partners are. It's about building a team of experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences working together to break down any barriers to the second component- collaboration. NSA leadership considered this when establishing NCTOC and included liaison positions from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Cyber Command. Co-locating individuals from these teams improves communication and naturally leads to better collaboration.
Much like how the offensive and defensive lines must be in sync, collaboration for our cyber defenders is essential. NSA's two missions of foreign signals intelligence and cybersecurity stay in lock step to mutually inform the other's operations. It's about having the right people in the room at game time, and in cyber, game time is all the time.
The last principle is empowerment. As Bland indicated, people are the Agency's most valuable resource. Technology does not solve problems on its own. The people behind the innovations are the problem-solvers and these people, NCTOC's players, must have the support they need to successfully defend our country.
Cyber threats are pervasive and increasingly complex. Through integration, collaboration, and empowerment, NSA is creating an environment to actively defend against attacks that can be just as unpredictable as a shot on goal with thirty seconds left on the clock. And stopping those attacks, just like stopping that puck, is gratifying to the women and men who regard strong national security as their trophy.