Ensuring Trust in Military Network Automation: Addressing Layer 8 Issues for Improved Operations and Security
Marc Packler & Tony ThomasMarc Packler & Tony Thomas

Ensuring Trust in Military Network Automation: Addressing Layer 8 Issues for Improved Operations and Security

By Marc Packler, President, CISO Advisory, Silent Quadrant and Tony Thomas, President & Chairman, Tony Thomas & Associates LLC

Automation is becoming increasingly prevalent as technology continues to advance and companies see the value in automating more processes. The TEI study by Forrester found that organizations implementing automation technologies can benefit from both operational efficiency savings and infrastructure appliance savings. While automation has many benefits, it also raises trust issues, particularly in the military where trust is of the utmost importance for the security of sensitive information and the efficiency of operations. However, trust issues in the military don’t necessarily involve lack of trust in automation technologies themselves. Rather, they are mostly the result of trust deficits within “layer 8,” what Margaret Rouse of Techopedia defines as “a hypothetical layer used to analyze network problems and issues that are not covered by the traditional seven-layer OSI model.” It generally refers to the “user” layer of networks. In the military’s case, the lack of trust exhibited within layer 8 hinders automation and negatively impacts mission assurance.

Though the commercial sector is focused on profits and has different priorities from the Department of Defense (DoD), the military can nevertheless garner a multitude of mission assurance benefits from added network automation. Department of Defense Directive 3020.40, Mission Assurance (MA) (Change 1, September 11, 2018), defines mission assurance as “a process to protect or ensure the continued function and resilience of capabilities and assets, including personnel, equipment, facilities, networks, information and information systems, infrastructure and supply chains, critical to the execution of DoD mission-essential functions in any operating environment or condition.” Network automation is a critical tool toward achieving these ends in today’s fast-paced and mercurial cyber environment.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, automation is the automatic control of a system using mechanical or electronic devices to replace human labor. The trusted autopilot in a KC-135 during refueling operations showcases how trust in automation has gradually built over time and how important automation has become in certain processes throughout aviation. However, not all processes can be automated, and there are still instances where manual intervention is necessary, such as with the role of a boom operator in refueling. The integration of human behavior and technology is essential to achieving successful automation, a crucial component in achieving mission assurance and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).

Such integration requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving experts from information technology, cybersecurity and operations, as well as effective leadership at all levels. JADC2 involves a networked military system that integrates and synchronizes operations across all domains of warfare across various platforms, such as sensors, weapons and communication systems. The integration of data from multiple platforms provides a comprehensive and accurate picture of the battlespace, enabling faster and more effective decision-making, while orchestration allows numerous programs to work together. However, achieving multi-platform capability is challenging, as JADC2 systems may use different communication protocols, data formats, and security measures.

Lack of trust among those in DoD’s layer 8 is a significant obstacle to achieving better integration of human behavior and technology in military networks. Mission assurance and JADC2 are negatively impacted by the lack of trust in each other’s personnel, the policies implemented by different organizations, the different funding levels and avenues for each organization, and the validity of data generated by multiple organizations. Solving trust issues requires effective leadership at the lowest and highest levels. Trust between and among organization commanders should be the starting point, and individuals should follow orders to accomplish the mission, regardless of their personal trust issues.

To take full advantage of advanced data analytics and processing capabilities requires experts in information technology, cybersecurity and operations to work together to extract meaningful insights from the data that can inform decision-making. When different systems produce different findings, individuals tend not to trust the data, and traditional tools sometimes have difficulty verifying results. To ensure the accuracy and security of data used in automation, robust processes for monitoring and verifying data must be in place. Additionally, transparency and accountability in the automation process can provide clarity on how decisions are made and who is responsible for them. Orchestration, the key to automation, must be in place as well. Application program interfaces, or APIs, are examples of tools that allow different programs to communicate with each other and enable automation of multiple processes simultaneously. The commercial sector is doing these things today, so it is not a technological issue for the DoD, but rather a lack of implementation at the layer 8 level.

Efforts to improve networks within the military cannot be achieved without sufficient funding. It is important that we recognize the value of networks as a crucial and primary tool for the DoD and allocate necessary resources accordingly. Trust is critical in this process as well. Organizations that work to retain funding they don’t need or perhaps shouldn’t even receive need to stop, but fear of losing financial resources is a reality. Some leaders equate reduced or reallocated funding with diminished power and authority, or they may not believe that the people who receive the reallocated resources will put them to best use. The overall military budget is certainly relevant to and impacts appropriate funding for networks and cybersecurity, but adequate funding also relies on trust among those in layer 8. To help build and maintain more trust, military decision makers should ask themselves the following question: “Am I doing what’s best for my service, or am I only doing what’s best (or perhaps easiest) for my organization?” If the answer and corresponding actions support the latter, then changes need to occur.

Without added funding and better allocation of needed resources, the military will likely continue to use unnecessarily manual processes that consume time and energy personnel can devote to other mission tasks. For example, personnel still manually patch network devices, a mundane and time-consuming task that can be automated. Additionally, automation should be applied across the board through process orchestration rather than being applied piecemeal to respective individual programs. Many commercial organizations have already adopted orchestration to seamlessly address IT service management tickets from start to finish without human intervention. For instance, if a router malfunctions, it would be beneficial to orchestrate the automatic loading of previously saved configuration files, which can quickly restore network service, without the need for human involvement. Automation and orchestration also reap manpower savings that can result in mission realignment, but the cyber community has not conducted a manpower study in 25 years, and many cyber organizations are already below required troop levels. If this is not rectified, then functionally appropriate and efficient manning is unlikely to occur, and this would do little to build the trust needed within layer 8.

Automation and orchestration technologies are essential in streamlining core business activities, managing systems, deploying applications, and achieving DevOps goals. Achieving better implementation is complex (though not unattainable) and requires many things of layer 8, such as process transparency and accountability, adequate funding, clear documentation and reporting, regular audits and assessments, ongoing education and awareness programs, a culture of continuous improvement, and a strong foundation of trust. Addressing layer 8 issues involves focusing on the human factor and the way people interact with technology, processes and policies. Such focus is necessary to garner the full benefits of automation and orchestration for mission assurance and JADC2 because the military cannot win future battles by running its networks and their security at the speed of Airmen; rather, it must run its networks and their security at the speed of automation.

About the Authors

Ensuring Trust in Military Network Automation: Addressing Layer 8 Issues for Improved Operations and SecurityMarc Packler, President of CISO Advisory at Silent Quadrant, is a seasoned cybersecurity expert with 25 years of U.S. Air Force experience. Specializing in digital security, transformation, risk management and strategic operations, Marc also serves as a Principal at Quadrant Four, implementing innovative technologies for the Department of Defense. Connect with him on the Silent Quadrant website, LinkedIn or email [email protected].



Ensuring Trust in Military Network Automation: Addressing Layer 8 Issues for Improved Operations and SecurityTony Thomas, President & Chairman, Tony Thomas & Associates LLC, has an over 34-year career in the U.S. Air Force as a cyber professional. Now, he leverages that diverse and vast innovative skillset to transform and impact digital governance, compliance, security and process improvement throughout all functional areas of industry and DoD. He can be reached on LinkedIn or email [email protected]

August 12, 2023

cyber defense awardsWe are in our 11th year, and Global InfoSec Awards are incredibly well received – helping build buzz, customer awareness, sales and marketing growth opportunities, investment opportunities and so much more.
Cyber Defense Awards

12th Anniversary Global InfoSec Awards for 2024 are now Open! Take advantage of co-marketing packages and enter today!