A cross domain conversation

BAE Systems Read time: 4 mins
BAE Systems’ Douglas Steil and Richard Byng discuss the impact of Cross Domain Solutions and their potential to transform the operations of organisations large and small
A cross domain conversation blog As technological advances continue to echo all around us, organisations need to improve their ability to secure and defend themselves. At the same time, they need to find new ways to use technology to increase their mission and business efficiency. And that’s where Cross Domain Solutions (CDS) come in.
CDS enable users in secure government organisations to be able to move on from silos and ‘connect’ with other networks and systems, users and available resources from one desktop. They allow data and information to securely move across security boundaries, domains, and networks, thereby enabling organisations across Defence, the Intelligence community and critical national infrastructure to safely communicate and collaborate.
Here, Douglas Steil and Richard Byng from BAE Systems, analyse the significance of CDS and their increasingly pivotal role across government and the military.

Why have CDS become so important?

[Rich] Our world is technology driven, data sources are ever increasing and the jigsaw puzzles are increasingly complex.  To see the full picture, all the pieces of the jigsaw need to come together in a coherent and timely manner you can only achieve that with CDS.
[Doug] CDS provide war fighters, decision makers, and first responders the ability to share actionable information and intelligence to better respond to threats and disasters in a timely fashion. Coalition intelligence sharing, common operating pictures, and big data analytics – these are all examples of where CDS products provide an integral part of the overall solution.

CDS are used across government but how are they used in the military?

[Rich]  To be honest, the use cases across military and wider government are the same, the mission goals typically boil down to enabling richer, timely collaboration and ensuring data is accessible and delivered where it needs to go to enable critical mission decisions. There is one difference and that is the form factor of the CDS and how it is deployed.  Typically non-military organisations will deploy CDS in a data centre, whilst military also need to do this, they also have a real need to deploy tactical rugged CDS into the battle field and vehicles (be that a plane, a ship or a land rover)
[Doug] Collecting and disseminating data and intelligence captured by sensors and exploited through the use of AI and human means is key to providing the military the common operation picture – which provides them with an edge against their adversaries. All of this actionable intelligence is collected, stored, and exploited on many disparate networks and domains (and foreign partners through coalitions such as NATO), so the challenge is to get the actionable data to the frontlines and command elements without requiring real-time human review.

What are the most interesting military challenges you’ve come across recently?

[Rich] How do you get a video stream and its associated metadata over a CDS in under one second?
[Doug] There are many examples of where CDS have provided missions with the capabilities and speed to actionable intelligence that they’ve never previously experienced. Whether it’s providing access to sensor data in all security classifications and enclaves, or the ability to share video feeds with first responders during humanitarian crises, CDS makes sharing and collaborating much easier and secure.

How can sensitive video data be redacted and sanitised to enable sharing with wider government and front line responders?

[Rich] We have the ability to inspect all the data packets entering and leaving our CDS, for video this translates to frames and metadata associated with the frame, we can remove or sanitise both.  And we do it in hardware, ensuring no software process can circumvent that part of the CDS.
[Doug] Both uniformed and civilian organisations require the use of video-based intelligence to perform their jobs in more efficiently. Classified and sensitive footage can be redacted by removing the frames that are of concern without losing the usability of the video for other missions.

How is such video used differently by the military and humanitarian organisations?

[Doug] Both use video-based intelligence in similar ways, such that they use it to provide an edge in their respective missions. Tracking and targeting of sensitive assets and adversaries is not that different than plotting the best landing and evacuation locations for a helicopter or airplane to execute a rescue mission.

Isn’t the data sensitive?

[Doug] Not all data is sensitive; even if it is valuable to both military and civilian based organisations.  In addition, sensitive data can be redacted or removed prior to sharing to unclassified end users.

What are the principal technical challenges when seeking to use a CDS in situations where a transfer of live video feed is required?

[Rich]  It’s not always just about video, a video feed will typically have either audio or metadata associated with it (sometimes both).  One of the big challenges is splitting the original stream into the individual streams transferring them over the CDS and synchronising them again all within 1 second.
[Doug] There are several challenges when trying to use CDS for transferring video feeds or streaming video. Bandwidth is a very large challenge as end users do not want to experience buffering or delays when viewing and utilizing video feeds. Additionally, redacting and filtering video streams is a difficult and complex challenge that few CDSs do well.

In a post Covid-19 world, when funds are tight and countries are facing numerous other challenges, why should CDS still be prioritised?

[Rich] Covid-19 has transformed the ways of working for everyone.  Workforces are distributed, the need for CDS to enable these distributed workforces to collaborate and work effectively is increasing.
[Doug] Even with reduced budgets, missions need to be executed and first responders need access to information and intelligence to perform their jobs in an efficient, effective, and secure manner. The bottom line is that CDS are an essential part of securing networks and information from adversaries (both internal and external). They are as important as firewalls are to a networks security posture – pre or post pandemic.

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About the interviewees
Richard Byng is Cross Domain Manager, Government, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
Douglas Steil is GM/Senior Director, Cybersecurity Products Portfolio, BAE Systems Inc
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Douglas Steil and Richard Byng BAE Systems August 20, 2020