Coast Guard launches new cyber strategy

The Coast Guard Cutter James (WMSL-754) is shown with its deployed 26-foot over-the-horizon cutter boat and a "go fast" smuggling vessel interdicted off the Pacific coast of Central America in mid-May 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard)

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The Coast Guard will build more cyber teams to focus on the cybersecurity of maritime critical infrastructure from attacks after a rash of hacks and ransomware incidents that shut down key services, the service’s top cyber officer announced Tuesday.

Its new Cyber Strategic Outlook was developed over the past 18 months and is the first update to the Coast Guard’s cyber strategy since it was signed in 2015. The changes come amid concerns over the increased vulnerability of critical infrastructure and uptick in attacks like the Colonial Pipeline ransomeware incident, Rear Adm. Michael Ryan, commander of the Coast Guard’s Cyber Command said at the Sea-Air-Space conference.

“It really is about revitalizing the focus of our organization,” he said.

The new outlook focuses on protecting the tech that enables maritime commerce, like software that tracks shipments and operational technology in ports. There has been an increase in automation and tech used to enable the global shipping network, a growth in attack surface for hackers Ryan said needed to be recognized in the strategy.

“As your strategy gets older and latent it becomes less relevant,” Ryan added.

One of the deliverables in the new strategy is creating new cyber teams focused on defending networks and conducting cyber operations to thwart malicious attack on critical infrastructure. The first two cyber mission teams have already been stood up, with funding for a third team requested in the fiscal 2022 budget request. Other units, like a cyber support team will also be established, according to the new strategy.

Another part of the strategy focuses on protecting the guard’s own IT platform, the Enterprise Mission Platform (EMP), which is part of the Department of Defense’ Information Network (DODIN). The goal is to ensure the Guard has secure connectivity to carry out its broader homeland defense mission, according to the strategy.

The Coast Guard, a military service, is uniquely housed under the Department of Homeland Security, giving it law enforcement authority and relationships with other DHS agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The service has sought to modernize its legacy IT since 2020. The latest outlook is separate the Coast Guard’s previously-established IT modernization strategy, but speaking at the Sea-Air-Space conference, Rear Adm. Ryan said the two would work in tandem to improve its network. security.

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Cybersecurity, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Coast Guard
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