Coast Guard floats, fights and navigates in cyberspace [Commentary]

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RDML Kevin Lunday, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, speaking with academy electrical engineering cadets about their future in the evolving cyber domain in November 2015. (Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

Acceleration in technology has fueled unprecedented growth, speed and efficiency in our globalized economy. More than 90 percent of the world’s goods and over $4 trillion of economic activity are supported by our networked domestic and global maritime supply chain. At the heart of that supply chain is the U.S. maritime transportation system (MTS) — the lifeblood of our economic security and prosperity and key to U.S. strategic mobility.

Today, the MTS is highly dependent upon cyberspace, but the seductive opportunities technology offers also carry new risks.

The U.S. is struggling to understand and manage those risks against a cyber threat environment that is dynamic and evolving. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea and other actors are developing strength and proficiency in cyberspace capabilities, and transnational criminal organizations and other non-state actors are increasingly reaching for the advantage technology offers. The U.S. must be prepared to deter others, defeat threats and respond to cyberspace incidents that threaten our national security and economic prosperity.

The Coast Guard is the lead agency for protecting our nation’s maritime critical infrastructure. We are a unique instrument of national security that leverages special relationships within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. The service is ideally positioned to assure the safety and security of the MTS, including risks from cyberspace, by working with other agencies across all levels of government, allies and the maritime industry. Despite its modest size, the Coast Guard is well positioned to serve as a transformational leader within DHS and the whole of government for cybersecurity of U.S. critical infrastructure.

Cyberspace is a Coast Guard operational domain. We are bringing the same ethos, doctrine and operational art from over 226 years of mission experience to bear. We are integrating operations and mission support in cyberspace with those we conduct at sea, in the air and on land. This is requiring fundamental change in how we understand and operate in the domain, prioritize capital investments and use technology.

Like the other military services, the Coast Guard is transforming itself now to prepare for the future. We are learning how to float, fight and navigate in cyberspace.

An armed service at all times and part of the joint force, the Coast Guard operates and defends Coast Guard networks as part of the DoD Information Networks (DODIN) to assure our missions in the other domains. We are .mil. We conduct operations in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, and maintain military readiness and interoperability with the Navy. As a DHS component, the Coast Guard performs missions to ensure the safety and security, including cybersecurity, of the MTS and the nation’s maritime borders.

In June 2015, the Commandant issued the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Strategy that set forth a bold vision: “We will ensure the security of our cyberspace, maintain superiority over our adversaries, and safeguard our nation’s critical maritime infrastructure” and three strategic priorities for the next 10 years: Defend cyberspace, enable operations and protect infrastructure. We are now executing five lines of effort to achieve these priorities:

  1. Establish the Coast Guard as the recognized leader for cybersecurity in the MTS.
  2. Organize command and control for Coast Guard cyberspace operations, including Coast Guard Cyber Command serving as a service component of U.S. Cyber Command.
  3. Develop and build a Coast Guard cyberspace workforce aligned with the DOD cyberspace workforce model.
  4. Generate the first Coast Guard operating forces for cyberspace, including an integrated Network Operations and Security Center and Cyber Protection Team that is organized, trained and equipped to joint standards of the DOD Cyber Mission Force.
  5. Modernize our outdated networks, information systems and IT into a Coast Guard Command and Control, Computers, Communication, Cyber and Intelligence (C5I) Enterprise Mission Platform to improve security and resilience for mission assurance.

The end result of all operations and mission support in cyberspace is ensuring that Coast Guard crews who conduct the mission at the tactical edge in a dangerous and unforgiving maritime environment will accomplish the mission and safely return. The Coast Guard is Semper Paratus — Always Ready — to protect our nation’s borders and ensure the safe and secure operation of the MTS.

Rear Admiral Lunday commands Coast Guard Cyber Command and also serves as the assistant commandant for command, control, communications, computers and information technology (C4IT). As commander of Coast Guard Cyber Command, he is responsible for delivering effects in and through cyberspace to operate and defend Coast Guard networks, enable Coast Guard operations and protect the maritime transportation system.