Over the past two years, the Biden administration has taken a series of steps centered on quantum and cybersecurity. This has been done via a series of individual Executive Orders (EO), National Security Memorandums (NSM), ongoing technology research, development, test and evaluation, as well as other procurement and acquisition actions. The most recent presidential actions have focused on Quantum Information Science (QIS). These moves should be viewed together with the actions previously taken around cybersecurity and planned activities such as the forthcoming National Cybersecurity Strategy developed by the Office of the National Cyber Director. What is lacking, however, is a comprehensive view, i.e., strategy, for the federal government.
Mid-career officers in the Navy, along with the other Armed Services, are taught the operational art of joint warfighting and planning. I am not advocating war, but officers learn the value of planning and executing military operations via three lenses: strategic, operational, and tactical. All are very important when executed separately but having them linked together delivers enormous capability and capacity for whatever mission or operation is being planned. This approach is also very valuable outside the military domain – relevant in other federal, state, and local organizations, and absolutely applicable within the private sector. By using these processes, priorities and ideas combined with capabilities and capacities, also highlighting gaps, organizations can develop realistic plans to solve a specific problem.
Our problem today is a race to a secure ecosystem based on QIS with cybersecurity in place ahead of our strategic adversaries. We are well aware of both the threat and the overall activities that nation-states are executing in this realm. Several years ago, these adversaries adopted comprehensive strategies centered on modern technology and QIS to advance their internal economy, but also to use against us in myriad ways. China has put their strategy into practice over the past few years. They continue to plan and resource their multi-year efforts through an aggressive mix of intelligence/intellectual property theft combined with their own research and development.
We don’t need to debate whether other nations are ahead of us with respect to QIS and cybersecurity. We know the threat is real and contributes to the need for action. But what the U.S. is missing is a comprehensive, integrated, prioritized strategy to address QIS and cybersecurity. We have the leadership in both the public and private sectors to put this strategy together. In addition, we have the technologies, the workforce, and indeed the resources to make it happen. In other words, we have the chef and we have the ingredients – we need the recipe!
As we review the actions from the past two years, there have been a lot of great operational and tactical activities. Some are connected while others are stovepipes addressing a certain issue. We have seen actions by both the Biden administration and Congress to highlight and address certain aspects of QIS and cybersecurity. That is great. However, a true strategy that comprehensively addresses QIS, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and other groundbreaking technologies is missing from our arsenal of capabilities. As mentioned, our adversaries have already adopted strategies and our national and economic security rests upon our ability to quickly pull together the strengths from the public and private sectors. An example of a public-sector strength is the ability to bring organizations together and develop comprehensive planning. Likewise, a private-sector strength is the ability to innovate using technology, identify important use cases, and deploy them in critical infrastructure.
This has been done before and it is as important to state what the strategy is focused on as much as what it is not. In 2007, after nation-state cyberattacks and breaches targeting the public sector, President Bush signed the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI). As the title states, it was a comprehensive approach from a strategic perspective to address role/responsibilities, technologies, and oversight for the federal government. It was not a comprehensive approach to the private sector’s cybersecurity needs, though it depended on the expertise and capabilities from the private sector. This was a strategic approach to the issue, which led to the development of operational capabilities and plans within the federal government that were complemented with tactical actions focused on people, process and technology. By doing this, the government developed and defended a five-year plan which included resources (people and money) combined with legislative and executive actions to clarify roles and responsibilities. While not perfect, over the years this strategy has been adopted by the succeeding administrations and updated, expanded, and actions clarified within the federal government. It has also brought regulatory and best practices to the private sector.
When looking at President Biden’s National Security Memorandums on Advancing Quantum Technologies and Improving the Cybersecurity of National Security, Department of Defense and Intelligence Community Systems, and his Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity, we see an attempt to take operational steps to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. These are important – yet not strategic and not necessarily connected. Hopefully, the aforementioned National Cyber Strategy will indeed be strategic and the groundbreaking document necessary to develop comprehensive and integrated actions that can support the appropriate reallocation of resources, and potentially new resources, for the federal government over time. Here are a few ideas that this new strategy should include:
- A clear thesis about the application of the strategy. It should include the technologies and ecosystem addressed and those necessary to achieve the results.
- A clear description of the roles and responsibilities necessary to execute the strategy.
- A clear outcome at the end of the strategy. The strategy should be used to define a clear plan of action and milestones (POA&M) that at the end of a certain time (perhaps 5 years) deliver the outcome we need.
- The POA&M, based on the specifics within the strategy, will identify the roles and responsibilities required to execute the strategy. This will include the private sector as a critical partner in the development of the strategy and the follow-on execution.
- A clear partnership between the Executive and Legislative branches. While the Executive Branch will author and execute the strategy, it will require partnership from the Legislative Branch for both proper authorities and resources.
While the strategy is critical for our national success, ongoing activities should continue, increase, and be linked together. NIST has been leading in the development and understanding of Post Quantum Cryptography. DoD and DHS are looking at the potential technologies to adapt and to develop use cases that would allow for quick action now. It is time for these and other efforts to be connected via one national strategy.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email editor @ hstoday.us.