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Naval Postgraduate School Conducts Education And Research In Cyber Warfare

Center for Cyber Warfare Director and Navy Commander Chad Bollmann outside Hermann Hall on the NPS Campus.
Doug McKnight
Center for Cyber Warfare Director and Navy Commander Chad Bollmann outside Hermann Hall on the NPS Campus.

Ten years ago, the then Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, warned of a cyber Pearl Harbor. Even though nothing of that magnitude has happened, the threat of a cyber attack is changing how the military is preparing for battle.

An important element in the nation’s cyber defense is located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. The Center for Cyber Warfare conducts research and educates information warfare officers and military electrical and computer engineers to combat cyber attacks. 

I met with the director of the center, Commander Chad Bollmann, who told me the Center focuses on two main areas.  First, they focus on computer networks and the devices the networks control.

Chad Bollmann (CB):  We also then have a second area of research into wireless communications, such as 3G, 4G, 5G communications. And the goal of this is, again, Navy focused to support this idea of distributed maritime operations or the ability to conduct maneuver warfare at sea. And, you know, at the end of the day, a global navy, a global force requires global communications.

Doug McKnight (DM): 3G, 4G, 5G, that sounds like something I can buy at my local electronics store. Is there an overlap of military and commercial equipment?

(CB): The military a long time ago, starting in the 1980s, made a choice to go with commercial off the shelf technology. So we couldn't do our job if we weren't in touch and very keenly aware of the latest advances in the civilian world. At the same time, the faculty here at NPS has a very strong focus to take that knowledge and to figure out how to apply it to solve Navy problems and capabilities. So we have our feet in both worlds, but our eyes are more focused on the Navy horizon, and figuring out how to use that knowledge and that technology to improve the  effectiveness and the efficiency of our ships and systems and people. 

(DM): Is Cyber replacing those ships, aircraft and missiles as the new face of warfare?

(CB): War has always had many different faces, but this is a pervasive face. Whether you operate a tank or a ship or an aircraft, or even something as simple as a radio, you have to incorporate cybersecurity and cyber considerations into every thing that you plan to do before you even press the start button. Because if you don't, then you will likely be surprised.

I feel like almost after the Colonial Pipeline attack, that the news cycle has moved on from the fact that there's still hundreds or thousands of organizations in the US on a daily basis that are being hit with ransomware attacks. And if you can get hit with a ransomware attack, you can get hit with a much more destructive attack.

And so our concern here at NPS and in the Center for Cyber Warfare is that many of these same effects that could happen to civilian computer systems, can happen to industrial control systems, military platforms.

(DM):  In your opinion, among all the threats facing the United State’s, where does cyber fit?

(CB): Again, this is my personal opinion.  Cyber is the threat that worries me the most because there's not an established protocol or methodology.  There's a lot of potential for misunderstanding. Add to that the fact that tanks and aircraft are really expensive. So because the playing field hasn't been clearly defined and the rules haven't been agreed to by all sides. There's a lot of potential for misunderstanding.

This ability to cause widespread issues using only a few computers which aren't that expensive to maintain, aren't that expensive to acquire, you've lowered the bar to entry.

And so it's not just the fact that there's not a defined playing field. It's the fact that the bar has been lowered to produce significant effects, which has me most concerned about cyber warfare.

That was Naval Commander Chad Bollmann, Director of the Center for Cyber Warfare at the Naval PostGraduate School. 

Doug McKnight, KAZU News.

Doug joined KAZU in 2004 as Development Director overseeing fundraising and grants. He was promoted to General Manager in 2009 and is currently retired and working part time in membership fundraising and news reporting at KAZU.