VICKSBURG, Miss.— In the world of cybersecurity, there are good guys and bad guys—hackers and defenders. A talented team at ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) has earned a unique certification that allows them to be both.
“The Department of Defense has a lot of networks and information systems,” explained Jackson Reed, an ITL computer scientist. “Those systems need to be secure, and we recognize that there are adversaries out there who would love to attack those systems.”
With those adversaries in mind, ITL set up a Red Team, which is a group dedicated to identifying potential security holes or pointing out where defenses might fail. By acting as adversaries themselves, the Red Team can make sure the proper protections are in place to secure networks against attacks.
“The process is called ‘adversary emulation,’ and it means that government personnel and defense contractors actually work to break into these information systems using the same behaviors that adversaries would,” said Reed, who is the chief of ITL’s Red Team. “It’s very cool work.”
However, becoming recognized as a Red Team is no easy task, as it requires an intensive vetting process by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Cyber Command. ITL began the steps necessary to having an official Red Team approximately five years ago, and the group is just months away from reaching the finish line of certification and accreditation.
“This is a huge win and something we’re incredibly excited about,” Reed said, adding that a comprehensive screening process is key to making sure Red Teams don’t introduce new risk to the process. “We’ve had multiple years of coordination with the NSA. We’ve been building up capabilities, hiring a team and putting together giant loads of documentation. We got through all that, and we’re very proud of this.”
And while ITL’s Red Team is entering the fight against hackers and network adversaries, DoD leadership is working to strengthen national defenses against the relatively new area of cyber warfare.
“The Pentagon has formally recognized cyberspace as a domain of warfare,” said Reed. “For ITL, the expertise and flexibility we have lab-wide means that our cyber efforts can significantly benefit DoD and our country.”