USMC, CyberCom show interest in quantum and blockchain

The Marine Corps and U.S. Cyber Command are both exploring how quantum computing and blockchain could transform their business practices.

Quantum computing and blockchain technology face similar obstacles when it comes to gaining acceptance in the federal government.  Most leaders know they have potential, but practical experience is limited.

Quantum computers are not yet advanced enough to crack encryption, but Department of Defense agencies can't wait until an attack occurs.

“Before I start putting something out a network, we need to see what an adversary could attack,” Ray Letteer, chief of the Marine Corps’ cybersecurity division, said at the Feb. 27 AFCEA Cybersecurity Technology Summit.  Although quantum computing will provide vastly more processing power, “we recognize that [it can also] be used against us, and we need to start doing something ourselves to be proactive,” he said.

At the U.S. Cyber Command, Director of Intelligence Casey Carey said he sees quantum computing as a way to “reduce anonymity” and bring “attribution” to who is operating on their networks.

“At the same time, quantum computing does concern me,” Carey said.  “When I think about the encryption on our classified networks … if someone is able to break that encryption, then we have real problems.”

When it comes to upgrading systems, Letteer said embedded cryptography presents challenges.

“We need to make the system more Lego-like so when you have a new version, updates can be done quickly and seamlessly [as] adjustments and still be able to move,” Letteer said. “Otherwise, we are going to be struggling for years.”

For blockchain, DOD is conducting  a study on the technology's potential uses in both offensive and defensive cyber applications. 

The report will assess efforts by foreign powers, extremist organizations and criminal networks using distributed database technologies.  It will also address blockchain use by federal agencies and possible vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure networks due to cyberattacks. The report is due in June.

Letteer said he sees blockchain helping keep government information secure in the cloud.

“If I have a capability through blockchain to keep the cloud protections, I’ve addressed the issue of getting into the cloud quicker and still protecting my information,” Letteer told GCN.  “It enables the tagging, labelling and standardization of my environment … so if there are any changes, people will know about it.”

For now, the Marine Corps is still exploring what value blockchain can provide. Carey said blockchain could help Cyber Command with intelligence capabilities.

“From an intelligence perspective, if any adversary finds something on our network before us, they have killed us,” Carey said. “We need to do risk assessments before moving forward with blockchain.”

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