Feb 17 2023

What to Expect at the Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium 2023

From zero-trust cybersecurity models to virtual desktop infrastructure, here are some of the topics likely to be discussed.

Expect Air Force leadership to discuss IT and cybersecurity challenges during the Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium 2023, running Feb. 20-23 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

One of the AFCEA’s three major annual forums, RMCS23 will afford the Air Force the opportunity to explain how it’s aligning its systems with the broader Department of Defense mission and strategies.

The theme of RMCS23 is post-pandemic zero trust, which will be heavily discussed along with topics like multicloud, hybrid cloud and the data center.

“DOD is struggling with that. They’re trying to figure out how to implement it smartly with all the different mission sets and security levels,” says Brandon Dusin, advanced technology account executive at CDW•G. “A lot of what we’re doing with the bases and the units is getting them in a position where they can work in that environment.”

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DOD Embraces Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Air Force bases are especially interested in virtual desktop infrastructure, a likely topic for discussion at the symposium, Dusin adds.

While VDI gained popularity in the commercial world more than a decade ago, the military is just figuring out how to securely implement the capability by logging into a virtual machine on a core server somewhere within the customer’s environment.

Historically, the Air Force bought all personnel computers with common access card readers for signing into different portals and websites and downloading updates. VDI offers bases advantages, saving users precious minutes every day logging into programs and databases, reducing access time to many applications and providing a secure environment that data never has to leave.

Virtual server environments are also easy to port to Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.

“The DOD wants to get away from building data centers and really focus on consolidation, moving what makes sense to the cloud and doing things more as a service,” Dusin says.

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Buying Into Commercial Solutions for Classified

The Pentagon is also interested in secure cyber solutions leveraging commercial technologies and products, so Commercial Solutions for Classified is a term that will likely come up early and often at RMCS23, Dusin says.

CSfC provides National Security Agency-level certification that a particular mix of technologies is secure and trusted, allowing users to gain access to multiple networks (classified or unclassified) through end-user devices.   

CDW•G is one of 83 vendors on the NSA’s Trusted Integrator List that can provide solutions to DOD. CDW•G also has done some CSfC work with the Army and Marine Corps, and is working to expand this portfolio to Space Force and Air Force units.

“We’ve done the IT work for all of those different things so DOD can stay plugged into its zero-trust environment without issues and get the mission done with the right IT,” Dusin says. “Everybody claims that they want CSfC, but everybody is scared of it.”

Picture a field operative with a tablet containing intelligence on a surveillance target being supported by drones overhead. Without CSfC, the surveillance captured by the drone is sent back to one network for analysts, while its captured intelligence must be downloaded to a secure IT environment before it can be analyzed and shared.

That’s no help to the operative, who may not have been at a secure facility for days. CSfC allows for classified information to be shared to trusted devices outside such sites, potentially providing the operative with relevant intelligence faster. 

“We’re putting real-time military intel in the hands of that operative via that tablet when he or she needs it, and a solid CSfC solution means they can trust the intel,” Dusin says.

CSfC solutions are customized, multimillion-dollar projects that generally take between 13 and 18 months to implement.

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Other RMCS23 Topics to Consider

Cybersecurity training is a hot topic for DOD, especially with the enlisted force, and it is sure to come up at the symposium, Dusin says.

CDW•G recently acquired Focal Point Data Risk’s Focal Point Academy to offer cyber and mission defense training, as well as courses on the technologies of core vendors like Palo Alto Networks and Cisco.

DOD also is pushing to do more with DevSecOps in the applications space and automate time-consuming processes, another likely point of discussion at RMCS23.

“That’s a big focus of the Air Force right now, to try to take the mundane things that we do really inefficiently and make them more efficient,” Dusin says. “They’re doing that by leveraging IT.”

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Finding the Best Solutions for IT Leaders

Each base provides a unique challenge for IT solution providers. Working with partners and talking to attendees helps CDW•G’s business development and sales teams meet challenges and deal with customer needs.

Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Box Elder, S.D., was once slated for closure. Then, the decision was made to increase personnel there to around 10,000 (including those on active duty and their families) and is being sent the first operational B-21 Raider bombers produced by Northrop Grumman.

CDW•G helped the aging base assess its technology needs and develop a journey map, beginning by upgrading its network with Juniper Networks. Subsequent phases will see the base buy devices to connect users to the network, implement wireless and establish a modern data center for critical applications.

“Ellsworth is the dream,” Dusin says. “You have an Air Force base where they haven’t put any money into technology since about 2014, so almost everything they have is at its end of life, its end of support. It’s old, and they’re really needing a top-down rebuild.”

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