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The Arsenal of Cyber Defense

Michigan leading the way as hub for nation’s digital defense innovatio

By James Mitchell

Five years ago, state and military officials conducted an analysis of Michigan’s strengths, weaknesses and needs in the world of cyber defense and security in an effort to better position the state as a leader in that space.”

“One of the weaknesses was we couldn’t compete with the National Security Agency,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Stone, assistant adjutant general for installations at the Michigan Army National Guard. “They have a large workforce with top secret clearances.”

Strengths, however, were found in the recognition of Michigan’s long-proven home to resources critical to the defense industry. Even without tackling the toplevel national security challenges there remains a need — by defense and private industry — to protect data and information that transcends security clearances.

“We decided to own everything that’s unclassified,” Stone said of the approach. Efforts have been taken through statewide initiatives, such as Protect and Grow, and by institutions and cooperatives dedicated to keeping and attracting defense work in Michigan.

Resources that keep the state competitive include the Michigan Defense Center and the Michigan Cyber Range, powered by Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Merit Network, where prototype testing and training in all aspects of cybersecurity can be safely done.

“One of the big strengths is Merit Network,” Stone said. “We have 4,000-plus miles of fiber with a 10-gigabyte capacity that connects most colleges and universities in the state. We’ve created an ecosystem.

Teach, Test and Train

Demand for Merit’s services at the Cyber Range by both military interests and private industry should be obvious. According to global insurance company Lloyd’s, cyberattacks cost businesses about $400 billion in 2015, a year that saw a 38 percent increase in the number of undetected online crimes.

“There are so many reasons you want to get into cybersecurity,” said Pierrette Templeton, Merit’s director of communications and marketing. “Data is just one of those areas. It takes about 200 days for an organization to realize or discover a breach.”

As a mission, Templeton said the Michigan Cyber Range provides a place to “teach, test and train” the lessons, programs and people needed to maintain cybersecurity. Private companies are able to test products or train staff from introductory basics to executive-level practices. The Cyber Range offers more than 40 professional cyber certifications from a hub of workforce education and training.

“There’s a lot of things people can do using that infrastructure,” Templeton said. “It’s a secure, unclassified environment and provides a lower risk for an organization than testing in a live environment.”

The collaborative concept, workforce experts say, is the state’s best strategy for making use of its resources. More secured cyber hubs are planned to expand both military and civilian opportunities.

“By creating these incubators and cyber hubs, companies have the opportunity to test software,” said Sean Carlson, vice president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “But also to partner with high schools, universities and colleges for talent development.”

Just as the auto industry played a critical role in the nation’s defense during World War II, Carlson said that national security and cyber defense are again looking for a place to put mobility and defense through their paces.

“Defense is a very important industry in the state,” Carlson said. “Within that, the components of cyber are one of the strongest growth areas. Michigan is a great place for a cyber ecosystem to develop.”

All Roads Lead To Michigan

Another check in the strengths column is the growing bond between the Internet of Things (IoT) and Michigan’s signature product, the automobile.

“There’s no piece of technology that can rival the car for how it brings people together. It’s a computer with wheels,” said Chris Inglis, visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies.
Understanding how to protect those same vehicles offers a plan that can be applied to all industries, including national defense.

“Cyber is often misunderstood as being just about technology,” Inglis said. “It’s about technology and people and cyberspace, all balanced together. We have to figure out how to bring resources to all three, and there’s a lot that Michigan is doing to advance that.”

Inglis visited the state in March as a speaker at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Cybersecurity Conference. The future safety of the automobile from data and information attacks — not unlike a country’s military security — depends upon having the facilities and infrastructure to make sure everything works as planned.

“They need places where they can safely test, challenge, make mistakes and suffer, and then pick themselves up and take that experience forward,” Inglis said. “Michigan is doing what it can and should to meet those expectations.