In The Media


April 29, 2010

– You could call the Facebook headquarters the “un-Pentagon.” The dress is casual, with far more T-shirts than sport coats, and many workers wear sandals instead of shoes.

A skateboard was parked outside one office. An employee who spotted a group in business suits remarked, “If they’re wearing ties, they’re not from here.”

But Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III fit right in with the employees of Facebook, the ubiquitous social media company.

“You’re very much a part of our world,” Mr. Lynn told Facebook employees in the company cafeteria. “We’re also very much a part of your world. We use social media just as other organizations do. It’s a critical element for us.”

Defense Department officials depend on social media for recruiting so the services can reach young people, Mr. Lynn said.

“That’s the demographic we’re trying to reach,” he said, “and we would be depriving ourselves of the best and the brightest if we didn’t use social media.”

Social media also tie together families separated by war and deployment, the deputy secretary said.

“With over 230,000 children whose parents are deployed overseas at this point, many of them use social media to stay in touch with their families on these long and frequent deployments,” he told the group.

Defense Department officials also use social media to communicate polices and news to diverse and growing audiences, he said. Mr. Lynn told the employees that he has a Facebook page, as do Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other defense and military leaders.

“We certainly see social media as a critical new avenue in how you communicate,” he said.

Officials also are looking at using social media in information gathering, Mr. Lynn said, using the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s balloon challenge as an example. The agency released 10 balloons around the country and awarded a $40,000 prize for the team that tracked them first.

“A team from MIT used a website and the power of Facebook and Twitter and other social media,” Mr. Lynn said. “They tracked the balloons in eight hours and 28 minutes. Using our old intelligence gathering, it would have taken a week.”

The test pointed to the power of this idea, the deputy secretary said.

Mr. Lynn visited the firm as part of his effort to see how the Defense Department and high-tech companies could work together more closely.

“One of the reasons for getting out of Washington is to get a more diverse set of views than you are able to get inside the Beltway,” he said.

Almost all information technology processes are double-edged swords, Mr. Lynn acknowledged. They provide decided benefits, he said, but also can be used as an avenue for attack. He explained how the department came up with a social media policy to replace different policies on social media each service had in place.

“They were too static, and focused largely on blocking sites that people thought would have the most vulnerability,” he said. “It didn’t provide the agility you need in the information technology world to provide a truly effective defense.”

The department was losing the benefits of social media and gaining nothing on the security side, he said.

“So we came up with a new approach that tried to balance the need for security with the benefit of social media,” he explained.

To address that issue, the department eliminated the blocks on social network sites, but built up network defenses.

The first step of the new defense posture, he said, is hygiene, with Defense Department users downloading and using patches, and a huge education push is under way to reach all of the 3 million computer users in the department.

“We need all users to be informed users (who) understand the privacy protections that are available (and) the processes and procedures we expect of them,” he said. “We expect them to be part of the security equation.”

This level, he said, probably eliminates 50 percent of the threats against Defense Department systems.

The second level is perimeter defense that uses firewalls and network intrusion devices that will eliminate another 30 to 40 percent of the attacks.

“That last 10 to 20 percent, though, we need a very active defense,” Lynn said. “We need to fuse the nation’s intelligence capabilities with the cyberdefense capabilities.”

Department leaders are standing up the Cyber Command which will have control of all cybersecurity activities: offense, defense and information assurance, Mr. Lynn said.

“Active defense is how we will deal with the most sophisticated intrusions,” he added.

But the department cannot do this alone, he told the Facebook employees.

“We need to partner with private industry as we walk down this road of cybersecurity,” he said.

This will become more crucial in the future, he added, as the sheer number of computer engineers and technicians that nations such as China and India will turn out will dwarf the American effort.

U.S. officials need to look at ways to create “force multipliers” to aid computer engineers, the creation of more and better artificial intelligence being at the top of the list, Mr. Lynn said, adding that he is open to suggestions.

“The purpose of trips like these is where should we be investing?” he said. “Where will we be able to get that multiplier of effectiveness?”

Another partnership deals with acquisition. Department finance experts can plan, budget, research and buy large weapons systems, Mr. Lynn said, but software purchases take too long.

“We need to develop an acquisition system that’s going to work at the speed of IT technology,” he said.

Social media are important to getting the nation’s message out to the world, Mr. Lynn told the group, and the world needs to know why the United States is doing something and how it is happening.

“In the conflicts that we are in, where our interests are at stake, (it’s important that) not just our population understands why we’re doing what we’re doing, but that the world understands,” he said.