Profile: Randy Blaisdell, Systems Director, Space Cyber Integration
Integrating Information Assurance Into Space Programs
How can information in cyberspace be assured for its accuracy and integrity, yet not be shared with an adversary? In the rapidly changing cyber environment, this is a question that keeps Randy Blaisdell on his toes. “What we do in information assurance and cyber is an oddity in the space acquisition world. If you look at the space acquisition and operations business, it’s generally a slow, deliberative process. Acquiring a space system usually takes years. Conversely, changes in the information and cyber realm happen at light speed. Every day we see dozens—if not hundreds—of new attack vectors, variants on viruses, and malware. The environment is changing so rapidly that we’re moving to systems that are able to respond to attacks automatically—there simply isn’t time for lengthy human-in-the-loop decision processes,” said Blaisdell.
Blaisdell is systems director for information assurance in Space Cyber Integration, which is within Development Planning and Architectures, Systems Planning Engineering and Quality at The Aerospace Corporation. Blaisdell and his colleagues across many directorates combine information security engineering, cyber risk analysis, and certification-accreditation skills with space architectures, cryptographic, transmission security (TRANSEC), and space security policy skills to support the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base and other national customers. “We work to bridge the inherent disconnect between the cultures of space and cyber,” said Blaisdell. One of Blaisdell’s goals is to help Aerospace customers and employees understand this cultural disconnect and the need to adapt. “It’s similar to the cultural acceptance of social networking. People of my generation want to keep social networking at arm’s length or adopt the technology slowly, vs. the younger generation, who live their lives on the Internet. Our challenge in Space Cyber Integration is to focus on the big picture. How do the myriad of cyber activities, information assurance vulnerabilities, and interconnected system designs impact mission success?” he said.
The primary objectives of information assurance at Aerospace include assuring the user the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the information being processed in a given system, and ensuring that no one else is impacting on those objectives. “We are trying to get the end effect of protecting the critical information and capabilities of the systems that the mission requires. It is not enough to put firewalls, routers, and intrusion detection devices into a system—we have to understand what to do with them. How do they help protect our customers and inform them of cyber intrusions? We try to get in early when our customers are initially envisioning a new system or capability. We help to establish requirements, review designs, assess implementations, and help both acquirers and operators understand information assurance and cyber risks,” said Blaisdell.
Blaisdell explained that while there are a lot of enhanced technologies in the works for information assurance of computer systems, protection of the radio frequency spectrum and access to that spectrum has not been as much of a focus. However, Aerospace is now doing significant work in this area of information security, including in transmission security, which contributes significantly to securing space system communication. TRANSEC technology offers the opportunity to protect information while being transmitted over radio frequencies, effectively hiding this information from an adversary or making it more difficult to intercept or alter.
Another information assurance-related area where Aerospace is quite active and has made great contributions is in developing and fostering the use of frequency-agile radios. This concept involves building a smart radio that can tell which frequency a user employs, and if it is not available, one that automatically switches to another frequency. “This combined with the TRANSEC technologies becomes very powerful because a user can automatically switch frequencies and potentially hide from an adversary attempting to interfere with or alter a transmission,” said Blaisdell.
Blaisdell is a relative newcomer to Aerospace, having joined the company four years ago. However, he is no stranger to space, information assurance, or the military. He spent 26 years with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a colonel in 2007. He grew up in Washington state, and joining the Air Force was a means to an education and a way to see the world.
Blaisdell graduated from Carroll College, in Helena, Montana, with a biology degree, and was accepted into medical school, but he couldn’t afford to go. The Air Force promised a way forward. He did not end up pursuing medical school, but instead, Blaisdell earned a master’s degree in telecommunications science from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “I’ve always been very focused on constantly learning, constantly being educated. I’ve had a fascinating interdisciplinary education and it fit well with my experience in the Air Force.” At another point in his career, Blaisdell earned a master’s degree in international strategic studies from the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. True to his motto of always learning, Blaisdell is now working on a doctorate in information systems technology.
Blaisdell has also lived and worked abroad. While in the Air Force he lived in Germany and worked with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on cooperative software development for the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The work was done in support of NATO peace-enforcement efforts flying sorties over Bosnia in the 1990s. At another point in his career, during the Clinton administration, Blaisdell worked with the Russians to develop a shared early warning capability that would detect inbound nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles entering Russia or the United States. Blaisdell also worked on foreign military sale efforts of shared early warning of ballistic missiles with the Gulf states—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others.
After 9/11, Blaisdell was sent to Africa, where he worked with African nations on cooperative communications efforts related to counterterrorism to try and prevent the growth of terrorism in the region, and to support locating and capturing terrorists in Africa. Blaisdell lived in Djibouti, a country on the extreme eastern edge of Africa. It was very hot and certainly a change from the relative comforts of Germany, but Blaisdell “had a specific mission” and “did some active cyber work during this time,” he recalled. “It was fascinating to learn about the different cultures and dispel some of the stereotypes we had regarding the region and learn how the cultures affected the way local and U.S. policy worked, and the way that the counterterrorism mission worked,” he said.
When Blaisdell retired from the Air Force he was looking for a way to continue to contribute to the nation. He wanted to work at a company that fit with his ethical perspective on life, and Aerospace fit that niche perfectly. “The company’s focus on mission assurance is phenomenal. It’s an interesting environment to work in. I don’t know anywhere else where you can walk through the cafeteria and hear discussions on quantum physics, interplanetary travel, and ion propulsion, and see people playing speed chess in the corner. We have some of the absolute experts on amazing technologies and
a very cooperative team. If you need to learn something about a topic related to the space industry, no matter how obscure, you can find someone who can help you at Aerospace,” he said.
Blaisdell’s last job in the Air Force was working at Air Force Space Command in Colorado. During that time he met several of the people he works with today. After retiring from the Air Force, Aerospace employees approached Blaisdell about coming to work at the corporation because of his extensive background in information assurance. Ironically, he had never been stationed at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, so considering a move to Los Angeles after retirement was not exactly what he had envisioned. But he agreed to come to L.A. for a year, and then met his wife within a few months upon arrival. “I’ve been in Los Angeles ever since, and I am loving working at Aerospace,” Blaisdell said.