Confusing array of security job titles complicates Pentagon cyber warrior strategy

You say Network Attack Planner, I say Network Defender, let’s call the whole thing off

As the US Department of Defense wrangles with cybersecurity and organizes for potential online warfare, it faces a number of big challenges - not the least of which is managing to get the right people in the right jobs.  But with the DoD such a task isn't so easy.

That's because the DoD lacks "a common definition for what constitutes cyber personnel," say the watchdogs at the  Government Accountability Office in a report out today on key Defense Department cyber challenges.

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From the report: "According to a U.S. Joint Forces Command report, the cyberspace operations community lacks a common dictionary of terms, and the terms defined in current doctrine are not used uniformly. This can cause confusion in planning for adequate types and numbers of personnel. There are cases in which the same cyber-related term may mean something different among the services. In another report, the U.S. Joint Forces Command found that 18 different cyber position titles across combatant commands are used to identify cyberspace forces. Some of these titles may be inconsistent from command to command and are likely to be duplicates."

The report went on to say military services do not currently have specific job titles for cyberspace operations, and cyberspace-related jobs are generally identified under the umbrella of intelligence, communication, or command and control. "While the military services bring unique capabilities based upon their individual core competencies, cyberspace forces must meet joint standards. US Joint Forces Command, whose mission is to synchronize global forces, reported that it is unable to quickly and easily identify personnel who are certified for cyber operations, as there is no identifier in the personnel records that indicate if the individual is a 'cyber warrior'," the GAO stated.

A quick look at examples of the variety of cyberspace-related positions points out the problem:

  • Computer Network Attack Intelligence Officer
  • Computer Network Attack Ops Officer
  • Computer Network Attack Ops Planner
  • Computer Network Attack Planner
  • Computer Network Attack Weapons Risk Assessor
  • Computer Network Defense Planner
  • Computer Network Operations Exercises Officer
  • Computer Network Operations Planner
  • Computer Network Operations Technician
  • Information Assurance Support Person
  • Intelligence Support to Computer Network Attack
  • Intelligence Support to Computer Network Defense
  • Intelligence Systems Officer / Computer Network Defense
  • Network Attack Planner
  • Network Defender
  • Network Defense Planner
  • Network Warfare Planner
  • Planner Analyst

For its part the DoD said in response to the GAO report that some role clarifications should be included in an operations update expected by the end of fiscal year 2011.

The personnel issue is in the background to a major cybersecurity metamorphosis underway at the Pentagon.  This month it issued its "Defense Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace" which calls for an all out effort to change the way the DoD handles network security.

For example it calls for mimicking private-sector businesses practices for securing networks by upgrading software and systems more frequently.  The plan calls for  more incremental testing and development rather than deploying monolithic systems and sacrificing some customization for speed of deployment.  The initiative also relies on the private sector to carry out some of its goals. For example, it wants ISPs to work with the government to mitigate risks that affect military networks.  

The GAO has taken the government to task over complicated naming conventions in the past.  In September 2010, it noted that safeguarding important information such as Social Security numbers involves over 100 unique markings and at least 130 different labeling or handling routines, reflecting a disjointed, inconsistent, and unpredictable system for protecting, sharing, and disclosing sensitive information.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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