Thursday, 21 October 2021 11:02

DoD weapons test lead questions robustness of commercial cloud services

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DoD weapons test lead questions robustness of commercial cloud services Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay

The man nominated to be the Operational Testing and Evaluation director at the US Department of Defence has expressed frustration at the fact that contracts with commercial cloud providers — like those sold by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google — do not provide room for independent cyber assessments.

In written responses to advance questions on policy, reported by the FCW website, Nickolas Guertin said the only way to test whether a system could hold out against a cyber attack was to actually conduct such an attack.

"The only way to test whether a system can withstand an actual cyber attack is to actually conduct such an attack on the system in a test environment," he said.

"It is my understanding that the Department uses NSA-certified red teams to do that during operational testing. Unfortunately, those teams are stretched very thin by high demand, and have limited resources.

"Additional resources for those teams, as well as automation capabilities to ease their workload, would improve cyber security testing.

"We also need to take advantage of the evolving body of research that is coming out of our FFRDCs [Federally Funded Research and Development Centres] that can inform the methods and tools for how we would do this work in the future."

His concerns about commercial cloud services also extended to infrastructure providers, and said this affected the DoD's ability to "determine the operational effectiveness and suitability" of the services offered.

Guertin made the observations on Tuesday during a confirmation hearing before the US Senate Armed Service Committee.

Microsoft's Azure cloud service is used by a number of US Government agencies, while Amazon Web Services has a US$600 million contract with the CIA.

A former applied researcher for software-reliant and cyber-physical systems at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, he said more than once that there was a need for cyber security testing considerations throughout the acquisition and technology development process.

Asked what he believed to be the proper balance between modelling and simulation and actual testing of a developed product, Guertin replied: "Testers must use models that are credible or risk providing warfighters incorrect information about their systems.

"Failure to identify system vulnerabilities during testing prevents correction or mitigation, and can create disastrous results in combat. Modelling and simulation credibility is achieved through a process of verification, validation and accreditation.

"At its base, validation requires live data to confirm that the modeled performance is representative of the real world."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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