Aerospace researcher Vincent Hunt, Communication Electronics Dept.

Aerospace researcher Vincent Hunt, Communication Electronics Dept.

Enhancing Customers’ Cyber Situational Awareness

Aerospace Technologists Characterize Advanced Cyber Environments
at the Unclassified Aerospace Collaboration Center

Aerospace, as the FFRDC for national security space, must continuously develop capabilities to provide unbiased, trusted-agent services to its customers working on the leading edge of technology. The Unclassified Aerospace Collaboration Center (UACC) supports this mission as an interdisciplinary, collaborative environment where Aerospace technologists lead and support customer teams on visible, high-priority programs. The teams include members of industry, academia, and government personnel, who investigate and characterize the attributes and performance of networked information technology systems. These cyber systems technologically underpin essential civil, commercial, military, and intelligence functions, and provide the network infrastructure supporting situational awareness.

The UACC, by virtue of its location near Washington, DC, in Chantilly, VA, provides easy access to Aerospace personnel and capabilities. Federal, state, and local officials, educational institutions, commercial partners, and the intelligence community work with Aerospace at the facility to conduct demonstrations of emerging technologies, systems, architectures, interfaces, and functionalities.

The UACC is a research and development operations environment where Aerospace, outside of the Aerospace corporate network, provides its employees and customers with network access in support of cyber-based programs, exercises, and demonstrations. Here, Aerospace, along with its customers and partners, can attack difficult problems involving hardware, software, and networks in diverse areas. One such area is penetration testing of multiple computer systems to try and gain access to a computer unbeknownst to the user. In this capacity, Aerospace functions as the “Red Team” simulating a cyber-warfare attack to disable, disrupt, or extract information from network-enabled systems.

Another area for testing is forensic analysis where tools are used in creative ways to examine hard drives, thumb drives, or entire computers/servers for tampering.
Another area Aerospace has investigated in the UACC is the setup and configuration of a Web server that emulates trusted users such that traffic to and from the server will look like normal Internet traffic to an eavesdropper. There is also the use of commercial telecommunications products to perform denial and deception on messages intended for known users. The goal is for Aerospace technical specialists to be able to perform software simulations and selected hardware-in-the-loop evaluations of end-to-end networks in the UACC by the end of fiscal year 2012.

Ralston Mitchell, Advanced Technology Division, National Systems Group, manages UACC operations. “A key feature of the UACC is the UACC network, which is an external network that operates independently from the Aeronet services. It provides a networked lab environment where investigators can optimally support their experiments by configuring unfettered, custom-tailored access to the Internet,” Mitchell said.

Mark Hamilton, who manages customer programs that depend on the UACC, said, “The UACC provides a unique environment that bolsters Aerospace’s posture as a trusted agent. Customers and their teams can have organizational conflicts with respect to an investigation’s outcome; some parties may suspect results generated in a particular vendor or agency facility. Aerospace encourages open and honest collaboration and acceptance of experimental results by all program stakeholders.”

Aerospace’s successful investment in the UACC’S cyber capabilities allows the corporation to continue to expand the breadth and depth of its support to military and intelligence community customers by leveraging the functions of this critical cyber research and development center.

— Mark Hamilton and Ralston Mitchell

Back to the Spring 2012 Table of Contents

Go to main article: Aerospace and the NSA Collaboration on Information Systems Security