The House Appropriations Committee is encouraging the Pentagon to move toward a cybersecurity Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) model being tested at U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC).
“The committee encourages the Secretary of Defense to implement a Zero Trust Architecture to increase its cybersecurity posture and enhance the department’s ability to protect its systems and data,” according to report language on the committee’s version of the fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill.
ZTA assumes networks are compromised and instead focuses on the defense of applications’ data. Zero Trust holds promise in deterring and defeating cyber threats from nations and hackers, ACC said.
Last January, MITRE Corp. held an “ACC Zero-Trust Summit” at MITRE offices in Hampton, Va., to discuss the architecture with ACC and companies, such as Google [GOOGL], Microsoft [MSFT], Unisys [UIS], Cisco [CSCO], and Palo Alto Networks, Inc. [PANW].
ACC Commander Gen. James “Mike” Holmes has backed ZTA and is planning a course ahead for the architecture.
“From a defensive perspective, we want to rapidly transition from network edge defense to data defense,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander of 16th Air Force, Air Forces Cyber, and Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’ virtual discussion on July 15.
The Air Force’s move from network defense to data defense “is central to many of the things that Gen. Holmes has pushed us in terms of expecting us to go with Zero Trust,” Haugh said. “That changes a number of things: our architecture, how we approach it, how we train airmen, and also which things we can automate and which things we need to still defend with the human to be able to translate that.”
One future challenge is artificial intelligence (AI)-generated, rather than human-generated, cyber attacks. Such AI-generated attacks may be able to breach secure information systems rapidly.
ZTA uses open-source container-orchestration systems, such as the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s (CNCF) Kubernetes, for improving cybersecurity through the automation of computer application deployment, scaling, and management.
Nicolas Chaillan, who has been the Air Force’s first Chief Software Officer since 2018 under Air Force Acquisition Chief Will Roper, told a CNCF audience last November that before he helped establish the DoD DevSecOps (development, security, and operations) reference design, the Pentagon had been using “Waterfall” software methodologies that led to the slow fielding of software–once every three to 10 years.
Last fall, the SoniKube team at Hill AFB, Utah installed Kubernetes on legacy hardware aboard a Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16 fighter within 45 days and demonstrated the functioning of Kubernetes on the F-16 for Roper. Chaillan said that the testing marked a step toward allowing the jets to adopt improved warfighting capabilities quickly to respond to needs in the field.
ACC’s Directorate of Cyberspace and Information Dominance (A6) is taking the lead on ZTA, which will likely use Identity Credential Access Management (ICAM) and Common Access Card (CAC) credentials to help identify those trying to access Air Force information systems, which systems, and the source point of the access.