Virtual JSAC: DoD’s Need to Maintain Mission-Critical Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it critical for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other organizations to enable a remote workforce. This calls for adopting cloud-based security solutions that help mitigate risk in these expanded environments. Recently, a distinguished group of DoD leaders came together to webcast a Joint Service Academy Cybersecurity (JSAC) Summit, “Building Capacity for the Remote Warfighter,” focusing on the unique requirements of the mobile worker who may need both secure classified and unclassified access to information. They also discussed the lessons learned so far in today’s new normal.

“These are extraordinary times and we have a real opportunity using the extraordinary times to figure out how to take things forward. Literally overnight, we saw thousands of our customers with hundreds of thousands of employees wanting to work remotely in a secure way,” said Nikesh Arora, chairman and CEO at Palo Alto Networks, during the webcast. “We’re all dealing not just with a pandemic, but also dealing with a national and international reexamination of race and social justice. These events today have the opportunity of changing how we think about ourselves and society and how we think about everything that happens around us.”

As COVID-19 began to spread earlier this year, organizations had to react quickly. For DoD agencies, this included the adoption of cloud services and the use of cyber defenses to help make a quick transition to working remotely. While many federal agencies have moved data and applications to the cloud, the patchwork of systems used for monitoring and protection creates challenges for widespread classified and unclassified remote access. 

“As we shifted to the COVID environment, I am extremely proud of our teams,” said Vice Admiral Nancy Norton, director, Defense Information Systems Agency; commander, Joint Force Headquarters – Department of Defense Information Networks. “We never closed, we never stopped working. We ramped up our operations to an astounding place. We recognized the work we do is mission critical, and we set about to ensure that the Department of Defense could work from home in a way that they never expected to do.”

While it’s not clear how long agencies and organizations will work remotely due to the pandemic, one thing that is clear is the need for a secure mobile workforce, and this is especially true in mission-critical environments. Cloud-based solutions can help secure critical networks, keep the DoD’s remote workforce fully connected and productive, and provide the high level of security and performance that’s essential for government organizations.

At the Pentagon, for example, the workforce went from about one percent telework to almost 90% telework overnight, said Bruce Crawford, chief information officer/G6 HQ Department of the Army. There could come a day when the idea of telework is obsolete because the workforce does it so often it’s just part of an ordinary work environment, he said, adding, “I would argue it’s more a new now than a new normal… We don’t know what the next week holds, what the next two weeks hold, etc. It likely will be more of a cascading series of future states that we’ll deal with versus, okay, we are done and this is how we’ll do business in the foreseeable future.” 

Remote work is here to stay and there’s no turning back, said Lieutenant General Mary O’Brien, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations at U.S. Air Force Headquarters. “Remote working has proved to work” and now the “workforce is expecting it,” she said.

One thing to watch will be how agencies adopt new data protections for a remote workforce environment thanks to funding from the CARES Act, which provided money for federal agencies, including the DoD, to provide new tools and readiness provisions to help employees continue their missions while working at home. This is especially important for agencies that provide different levels of access to information depending on employees’ security clearance levels.

“The events of 2020 have brought in a stark belief in our need to integrate the vision to imagine next, an ability and resiliency to handle the next surprise wherever it occurs over the horizon and in possibly uncharted waters,” said Vice Admiral T.J. White, commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command / U.S. 10th Fleet. “We need to meet these technologies and trust challenges together.”

The webcast – which also featured remarks by Lieutenant General Jay B. Silveria, superintendent at U.S. Air Force Academy, and Lieutenant General B.J. Shwedo, director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber CIO – was the latest event in the JSAC virtual series.

For the past five years, Palo Alto Networks has been honored to host an annual JSAC event, which uniquely brings together cybersecurity leaders across military, government, academia and industry. The extraordinary JSAC community has continued to grow over the years, inviting leadership to a selected military academy to share experiences, tackle tough discussions and collaborate. The community, as well as the strategic dialogue, have continued to establish JSAC as a distinguished event.

The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 prevented the Summit from taking place this year at the United States Air Force Academy. However, to continue the important dialogue amongst this group, JSAC became a virtual event. While the in-person element of the event was missed, the conversations have continued to take place across separately scheduled virtual sessions in the JSAC virtual series. 

See more information about upcoming JSAC virtual events.