WashingtonExec recently sat down with ManTech’s David Wallen to discuss last year’s CyberCon, where Wallen was a speaker. In the following interview, Wallen, who serves as ManTech’s senior vice president of cyber operations and exploitation solutions, talks about the importance of the event and the evolving cyber landscape.
WashingtonExec: David, you were a panelist at CyberCon 2017, organized by Fifth Domain. Can you tell us more about the event and your role?
David Wallen: CyberCon is one of the industry’s premier cyber events, not just for the subject matter or experts called on to speak, but the audience, too, which is selectively chosen from among high-level government decision-makers. Roughly 40 percent of CyberCon 2017 attendees were U.S. military, and the balance hailed from the intelligence community and federal civilian agencies.
I took part in the panel on “Information Warfare: The Cyber Component” along with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York and others. My role was to discuss the convergence of offensive and defensive cyber in ways that not only safeguard our nation, but help defeat our enemies. I also provided my thoughts on the gap between knowledge of offensive and defensive cyber.
This was a very timely topic given the Defense Department’s heightened emphasis on cyber as the “fifth domain” of the multidomain battle concept. As we saw in 2017, the fifth domain has advanced far beyond the concept stage. Cyber is now an embedded capability for American armed forces going up against enemies who try to hide in the virtual arena. 2017’s results in combating them were nothing short of phenomenal.
WashingtonExec: ManTech says “knowledge of offense is important to cyber defense.” What does that mean, and how does ManTech put it to work?
Wallen: Let’s step back and look at the broader world of cybersecurity, starting with the numbers. A group called CyberSecurity Ventures publishes an annual cybersecurity list of the “world’s 500 hottest and most innovative cybersecurity companies.” Now, ask yourself: How is it possible to have that many true leaders in any marketplace? And what does that say about the many hundreds of other cyber players presumably on the publication’s bottom-feeder list? Nothing much that’s good.
The vast majority provide static systems that react to yesterday’s attacks. That approach isn’t very helpful when you consider that a new form of malware is generated every 3.2 seconds, and the total count of new types of malware likely topped 9.4 million in 2017.
At ManTech, we call our approach Full Spectrum Cyber, and it is far more advanced, sophisticated and comprehensive because it leverages deep knowledge of both offensive and defense cyber, and gives our customers the edge in combating cyber threats.
WashingtonExec: How do you put this knowledge to work for customers?
Wallen: We set them up on the ManTech Advanced Cyber Range Environment, or ACRE, a combined virtual/physical capability that puts customers’ cyber defenses to the ultimate test in a fully secure environment. We start by creating a precise replica of their network for the purpose of this exercise so that their actual network is never at risk.
Then, we challenge their cyber staff to try defending this near-perfect network replication against real malware, bots and phishing scams — such as WannaCry, a particularly nasty form of ransomware now believed to have sprung from the same hackers who attacked SONY in 2014.
ACRE’s methodology works on multiple fronts: It evaluates the customer’s cyber defenses for weaknesses, tests their personnel’s skill in defeating live malware, provides training that improves their performance and also recommends technology solutions that can augment the strengths of current cyber defenses. The net takeaways are a system and cyber team fully prepared for tactical response to cyber threats when they strike.
WashingtonExec: You mentioned earlier one of your points at CyberCon 2017 was on the gap between knowledge of offense and defense. Can you elaborate?
Wallen: For a long time, people tended to separate offense from defense, and the gap between the two was wide. But the idea that knowledge of offense is “the best defense” is definitely gaining momentum, and in important places. One example is the Department of Homeland Security, a longstanding customer of ManTech, which is fully on-board with our approach.
WashingtonExec: What do you see happening in 2018, will the threat of cyberattacks be held in check?
Wallen: It’s never wise to venture predictions in this arena. That said, if the current pattern continues, we can expect the volume and sophistication of cyberattacks to continue, perhaps at greater velocity as hackers evolve to neural networks and other forms of artificial intelligence. Government agencies will need to be every bit as skilled and quick at identifying and preempting the attack.