23 Mar 15. At a Press Conference on Monday March 23rd Group Innovations, based in Newport South Wales, gave details of an innovative cyber study contract awarded with partners Dstl by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The 16 month study will lead towards a deployed Technology Demonstrator and will help the MOD judge if an attack is a single event or part of a more sophisticated multiple threat, able to impact an entire operation or network. At the conclusion of the study at the end of 2017, the system will be de-risked and the next stage may be competed for full deployment.
Virtual Cyber Centre of Operations (VCCO) brings together the right people, with the right information and right capabilities, at the right time. One of the key task of the VCCO will be to test all known Malware toad this to the databank of known threats. The VCCO consists of a Main Ops Room, Commander’s Office, Network Ops Room, 3-D Data Area, Auditorium and Conference Room, all accessible using the 3-D helmet which the Editor tried.
The contract will see Airbus Group Innovations, the corporate research and technology network of Airbus Group, develop a 3-D virtual world to enable collaboration and shared situational awareness. The Virtual Cyber Centre of Operations project will demonstrate how virtual collaboration might give commanders a better understanding of how they are being targeted by cyber enemies on the battlefield. The VCCO concept aims to provide decision makers and SMEs with an overview of the shared cyber environment, so they can understand where the threats might lie, and how they might collaborate securely to defeat those threats.
Dstl’s Ben Parish (Cyber Situational Awareness Capability Adviser) said, ”We are pleased to be able to continue delivering excellent research on behalf of MOD through our industry partners. Cyber technologies are constantly evolving and it’s crucial for the UK’s Armed Forces to keep abreast of these developments. The research into the VCCO concept contributes to MOD’s understanding of how to be resilient to cyber-attacks and be better able to protect our interests in cyberspace.”
The challenge is that, as the threat and sophistication of cyber-attacks rises, there is an increasing threat to military capability. This contract will help study how British forces can stay ahead of the curve.
The VCCO concept will allow the military decision makers to call on experts anywhere around the world to help deal with cyber situations in real-time. This research will help in the design and development of a new generation of Security Operations Centres (SOC), which give forces the ability to counter cyber threats when they are deployed.
The contract, awarded until March 2016 and funded by Dstl has an initial worth of £1.4m, and welcomes two SME subcontractors to the programme; MooD International and Xuvasi, who will provide visual analytics and event correlation data respectively. The collaboration between Airbus Group Innovations, MooD International and Xuvasi follows initial research by each supplier, previously funded through cyber themed competitions run via Dstl’s Centre for Defence Enterprise
Dr Kevin Jones, Research Team Leader – Cyber Operations, Airbus Group Innovations, Newport, said, “This contract award follows 4 years of work with Dstl, and the collaboration and co-operation of multiple stakeholders. As cyber threats continue to develop both in complexity and technological advancement we are proud to be part of the MoD’s next step into modern cyber defence and understanding.”
In giving the presentation Airbus and Dstl gave an in-depth insight into the challenges facing countries across the world in their fight against cyber intrusion.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Kevin Jones continued, ”There are numerous methods for cyber attacks, our systems allows us to pinpoint the attack, isolate it, analyse it and destroy it. Our new system allows us to call on a team of experts across the world who can seamlessly link in to the VCCO using secure comms and our innovative 3-D helmets which allow the expert direct aces to the VCCO.”
“The key to an effective VCCO is people who can talk to each other to solve problems, Policies, plans and Procedures have to be in place before an event to allow for the interaction of different countries and armed forces, data and intelligence have to be available but only on a ’need to know’ basis. Rather than give a Third Party access to the entire network, the place where the attack has been found can be isolated in a ’Sandbox,’ and worked on away from the main networks, the visibility will be through the software not the network. In addition time is critical as gigabytes disappear daily, the VCCO will bring together all these experts in a speedy and timely manner to limit any damage to the cyber attack.” Kevin Jones continued.
What the VCCO brief demonstrated was how cyber attacks have developed in sophistication and complexity. One of the key tasks for government’s will be will be to beef up the resilience of their networks to prevent cyber attacks. This is one of the problems with digitising military and Police communications, you extend the networks right up to the front line giving seamless connectivity by Third Parties and allied armies through self-forming networks. These networks now connect aircraft, UAVs tanks and the individual soldier giving any cyber attacker the ability to attack the network at its weakest point, probably the front line where forces are communicating on the move. Airbus declined to comment whether a VCCO and cyber capability would form a part of the upcoming Morpheus Requirement to replace Bowman, but it is likely to form a major part of the network requirements.
One area where Kevin Jones declined to comment was whether, having identified the source of the attack, that the VCCO would then launch a cyber counter attack.
“The VCCO is a purely defensive tool.“ He said.
However with the growth in ‘Cyber Warriors,’ as proposed by SOCOM and others, the ability by the UK MoD to launch a counter attack will not be long in coming!