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Navy Reserve Sailors secured the U.S. Navy’s unclassified computer networks from outside threats during Operation Cyber Dragon at U.S. Fleet Cyber Command (FCC), March to August 2022.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. – Navy Reserve Sailors secured the U.S. Navy’s unclassified computer networks from outside threats during Operation Cyber Dragon at U.S. Fleet Cyber Command (FCC), March to August 2022.
More than 100 Reserve Sailors were tapped by FCC to execute this critical mission at a time when there is a real-world threat of cyber attacks. This operation also established a new workflow for future missions where the depth and experience of Reserve Sailors could be utilized.
Cyber Dragon was conducted in two phases this year—the first in early spring and the second phase during the summer. Chief Warrant Officer Scott Bryson, who works in Defensive Cyberspace Operations and Department of Defense Information Network Operations Division, oversaw the operation.
“We identified that [the Navy] had a [considerable amount of] known issues across the DoD network,” said Bryson. "Operation Cyber Dragon is an effort to identify and resolve vulnerabilities within the Navy’s unclassified network."
To do this, Bryson recognized the need to operationalize a sizeable team of Reserve Sailors within a short period of time. Because the operation focused on unclassified networks, he was able bring in Reserve Sailors to an unclassified site to execute the mission. He cast a wide net, looking for Navy Reserve Sailors both within and outside the command, regardless of cyber or information technology experience.
“I can show you what to do, and then I’ll set you free,” Bryson said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Lucas, a Yeoman from Wichita, Kansas who typically does administrative work, was one of about two dozen who volunteered for the first phase of the operation.
“This was different than anything I’ve ever used before, but it was very intuitive," said Lucas. "Once they explained to me what the [terms] all meant,…and once I got the basics down, it was much easier."
“I’m a truck driver for UPS,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Manzano, who volunteered for the second phase. “So all the cyber stuff is new to me. Day one was pretty rough. I did a lot homework when I went back to my room. Day two was more trial and error, and day three, I picked it up and ran with it.”
Reserve Sailors like Manzano and Lucas, with no or little technical experience,were teamed up with those who had more, like Lt. Blake Blaze.
“I work for an education technology company, a startup…we make data science tools for high school universities,” Blaze said. “So Manzano and I were teammates. We were paired with the same business unit…and there were some vulnerabilities that we were able to identify and realize these are serious concerns that need to be taken care of.”
Bryson says the immediate mission was a clear success, with nearly all vulnerabilities resolved, but it has also established a model where FCC could use Reserve Sailors to perform this type of work.
“The interesting thing in the IT world or the network world is that, what’s patched and 100 percent compliant today, might not be patched tomorrow, because vulnerabilities ebb and flow,” said Bryson.
“This operation demonstrated the strength, responsiveness, and expertise our Navy Reserve Sailors offer," said Rear Adm. Stephen Donald, vice commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and deputy commander, U.S. 10th Fleet. "Fleet Cyber Command was able to mobilize a team of Reserve Sailors quickly to execute an urgent mission. With warfighting readiness as our primary mission, this was a clear example the value Reserve Sailors provide to the defense of the United States.”
Bryson says the cyber attacks can be launched from anywhere and by anyone whether it’s a coordinated by another country, a rogue actor, or someone with curiosity, testing out his or her computer skills. He says this requires being even more agile to stay ahead of the threats from around the world.
“Network cyber hygiene is paramount," said Bryson. "Our attack surface is always going to change across anybody’s network. Whether it’s a commercial business, military or government, your attack surface varies all the time from malicious hackers that are trying to poke and prod you. We’re always going to have vulnerabilities."
Bryson explained that tapping the depth in the numbers and experience of Reserve Sailors, as Cyber Dragon did, is an ideal way to continually bolster the Navy’s networks and ensure the Force is warfighting ready.
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