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U.S. professional basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, commonly known as Shaq, is an imposing force. His 325-pound, 7-foot-1-inch frame projects a sense of invincibility. At the peak of his career he dominated the court near the basket, often scoring with relative ease.
But Shaq has a glaring weakness: He’s a poor shooter from the free-throw line. Opponents strategically exploit this weakness by intentionally fouling the large man, hampering his scoring ability by forcing him to shoot free throws.
Cyber criminals trying to penetrate global computer networks have adopted a similar strategy. Like O’Neal’s opponents, they seek out an operating system’s vulnerabilities to exploit and digitally “foul” their target. But instead of costing a team a few points in a basketball game, cyber opponents prove their talent by manipulating a secure network’s weaknesses to infiltrate some of the world’s largest government agencies and corporate entities.
Whether attempting to swipe credit card numbers from a retailer’s database or view classified footage collected by unmanned aerial vehicles, virtual thieves are persistent, resourceful and a threat to institutions worldwide. Defenders of the cyber world at Boeing are following a proven sports strategy to protect against these threats – the best offense is a good defense.
Defenders of the cyber world at Boeing are following a proven sports strategy to protect against these threats – the best offense is a good defense.
Network protection needed today
Recent successful attacks on several U.S. congressional websites and coordinated breaches into the secure networks of major technology companies serve as reminders that no one is immune to computer hackers’ offenses.
Taking steps to protect against attacks, Boeing currently has systems in place to defend its networks, which operate across all operational domains – land, air, sea, space and cyberspace. One of the company’s most innovative solutions is the Boeing Security Monitoring Infrastructure System (SMIS). Originally developed by Boeing’s Laboratory Network to monitor the network, SMIS now is being deployed to Boeing customers who also need faster and more comprehensive situational awareness. SMIS provides a comprehensive security monitoring solution that integrates network sensors, data collection, correlation, data and event storage, incident handling and report generation.
“This approach is important because most monitoring systems look at known signatures rather than detecting anomalies and new behavior,” said Barbara Fast, vice president of Boeing Cyber and Information Solutions. “With increasingly savvy attackers, this helps us identify perpetrators much more easily.”
Other cybersecurity solutions being developed by Boeing include the ability to operate through cyber attacks, to maintain situational awareness and to make decisions responding to attacks.
While Boeing’s primary focus is on the cyber needs of government customers in the defense and the national intelligence community, the need for cyber protection spans public and private networks as well. A white paper published by Deloitte in January 2010 concludes that many organizations continue to underestimate the threat of cyber crime and remain relatively unprepared to combat such attacks.
According to the report, “stealth techniques enable cyber criminals to act without fear of timely detection, let alone capture and successful prosecution. It is among some of the most insidious—and profitable—of crimes.”
Preparing for tomorrow
The U.S. government’s first cybersecurity coordinator, Howard Schmidt, said in a White House blog posting that his top priorities are: delivering a unified response to future cyber incidents; strengthening public and private partnerships, and promoting research and development of the next generation of technologies.
Boeing has worked for years on developing such comprehensive solutions, according to Steve Oswald, vice president and general manager of Boeing Intelligence and Security Systems.
“We’re confident in the capabilities we deliver to our customers,” Oswald said. “Still, we know we must keep working as the technology and the threats change on an almost-daily basis.”
Identifying tomorrow’s leaders and promoting internal skills advancement and knowledge sharing is vital to protecting against emerging threats, he added.
“Boeing provides workforce development initiatives to fill the emerging cybersecurity pipeline through a combination of internal instruction and collaborative university cyber training opportunities,” Fast said. “We are currently working with California State Polytechnic University and the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute on cyber-related curriculum and we see real promise in the benefits of the curriculum.”
Boeing also hired members of a student team from California State Polytechnic University who won the 2009 Western Region Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC). Recognizing the group’s fresh energy and collective potential, Boeing executives interviewed and hired six of the team’s graduating members. Having experienced firsthand the talent these competitions bring to light, Boeing sponsored several of the 2010 CCDC regional competitions as well as the national competition.
An evolving enemy
Each time Shaq steps on the floor he faces no more than five players from the opposing team. Each time he is fouled he steps to the line for the same two free throws. The rules of the game clearly dictate both those realities. There are no similar rules in the cyber world. The number of potential attacks is countless. Though a number of attacks are conducted for sheer sport, no one plays by the rules of any game.
In addition, when digital networks are compromised there is no standard result. Personal information could be stolen, account information maintained by financial institutions may be compromised or the security of nations around the world might be placed in jeopardy.
These realities continue to motivate Boeing’s cyber team to remain a step ahead and protect customers against the dynamic global threats they face every day.