Comments on H.R. 2500 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA)
Submitted Statement for the Record of
Research Associate, National Security and Cybersecurity
R Street Institute
Government Affairs Specialist
R Street Institute
Before the House Armed Services Committee
And its relevant subcommittees
House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats
House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel
House Armed Services
Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
House Armed Services Subcommittee
on Tactical Air and Land Forces
House Armed Services
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
House Armed Services
Subcommittee on Readiness
United States House of Representatives
Hearing on H.R. 2500
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020
June 3, 2019
ON H.R. 2500 NATIONAL DEFENSE
AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2020, SUBMITTED STATEMENT OF KATHRYN
WALDRON AND KRISTEN NYMAN
Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry and Members of the Committee:
for holding hearings to markup H.R. 2500
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA). The purpose
of this statement for the record is to highlight for the Committee a few issues
that we believe warrant particular attention, including 5G competitiveness,
supply chain integrity and workforce development.
We are part
of the National Security and Cybersecurity policy team at the R Street
Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our
mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets
and limited, effective government in many areas, including national security
Committee contemplates ways of ensuring national security through the 2020 NDAA
reauthorization, we recommend that it consider addressing five policy areas
discussed in detail below: supply chain security, security
implications of 5G, election security, the prospect of a national space force
and general cybersecurity. We hope you will find these materials helpful as you
consider the reauthorization of the 2020 NDAA.
I. National Security Implications of Supply Chain
national security means, in part, ensuring supply chain integrity. As the
Committee knows, modern conflict is no longer limited to the kinetic warfare of
the past. U.S. adversaries seek to exploit American weaknesses wherever they
can—developing robust capabilities to engage in a range of destructive cyber
activities targeted at both U.S. government agencies and critical industries. A
cyberattack against the American electrical grid or command-and-control
communications systems during a crisis could have devastating consequences if a
supplier for these systems lacks sufficient cybersecurity protections, or
worse, willingly provides a platform of attack. Therefore, it is vital that the
companies in the supply chains for key military and civilian systems in the
public sector, as well as critical infrastructure and key resources in the
private sector, are thoroughly vetted to prevent incorporating any weak links
that could be exploited in a time of crisis.
Last year’s John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act demonstrated a growing awareness of the importance of supply chain security by banning federal government use of certain products from Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE. However, Huawei and ZTE are not the only companies that pose a threat to the federal government’s supply chain. Russian companies such as Kaspersky Lab, the Speech Technology Center and Chinese telecommunications supplier Lenovo are just some of the other companies that should be evaluated carefully from a cyber supply chain risk perspective. Each of these companies comes from a country whose legal structure gives government officials the authority to access data—and some of these companies even advertise their closeness to their respective governments. (Kaspersky Lab ran a 2007 ad campaign in Japan that read, “A Specialist in Cryptography from KGB.”)
We applaud the recent
federal focus on identifying and better addressing certain supply chain
vulnerabilities. In addition to banning Huawei and ZTE from federal government
use, the signing of the SECURE Technology ACT created the new Federal
Acquisition Security Council, comprised of members from a variety of federal
agencies, including the Department of Defense. Additionally, a new ICT supply
chain task force, with representatives from both public and private sectors,
will hopefully foster the public-private dialogue needed to protect critical
industries that serve the whole nation.
However, there is still more work to be done on this important issue. In our view, the United States “lacks a publicly available and clearly articulated, comprehensive, dynamic, prioritized and holistic assessment of: (1) what public and private sector assets it should protect from supply chain risk; (2) the supply chain threat actors who pose the greatest risk; (3) the malicious tactics, techniques and procedures that such threat actors use or are likely to use to accomplish their objectives; (4) the vulnerabilities that exist to U.S. information systems and devices; (5) the most effective and efficient defensive measures and mitigation strategies for thwarting adversaries and recovering from failed mitigation efforts; and (6) the metrics and measures that public and private sector entities should use to accurately assess the supply chain threat and the effectiveness of risk mitigation and recovery efforts put in place to address those threats.”
In order to better address the supply challenges that the United States faces, we recommend the NDAA require the Department of Defense to conduct a thorough security review of its entire supply chain. As Mike Gordon, deputy chief information security officer at Lockheed Martin, said last year, “Because of contract privity and competitive advantage, the tier one doesn’t necessarily know who in the tier four is working on a particular program, and the government does not necessarily know that either.” We recognize that tackling such a vast network may seem like a monumental task; indeed, it will be complex and resource intensive. Nonetheless, it is crucial that the appropriate funding and resources for this audit be set aside in the 2020 NDAA. The longer government officials take to begin reducing key supply chain vulnerabilities, the more time criminal hackers and hostile nation-state actors will have to exploit these vulnerabilities, with potentially devastating results.
II. Election Security
With 2020 quickly
approaching, election security should be a primary concern for lawmakers as
they reauthorize the NDAA. In this section, we will describe some of the
election vulnerabilities made evident by Russian interference in the 2016
presidential election, identify additional security concerns unrelated to
Russia, and provide election security recommendations from two perspectives—entities
over which the government has jurisdiction and those over which political
entities retain jurisdiction.
In the wake of the
2016 election, we have seen the impact that coordinated attempts by foreign
hostile nations can have on the American electoral system. Department of
Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller called the attacks “multiple and
systematic.” Indeed, the 2016 Russian election hack utilized at least three
tactics: online propaganda, direct hacking of political entities and targeting
of state election systems. Each of these tactics exposed unique vulnerabilities
in the U.S. election system that this Congress must address before the 2020
The Russian Federation was behind a large-scale
disinformation campaign leading up to the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
Russians were responsible for creating thousands of bots operating on Facebook,
Twitter and Google. These bots shared paid and unpaid posts to millions of
Americans, including commentary on political content, fictitious news stories
and political advertisements. A Russian bot’s page is indistinguishable from
any other page in the eyes of the typical viewer, so these posts were shared
and re-shared millions of times by legitimate profiles. While it
is difficult to measure the exact impact this disinformation campaign had on
the outcome of the election, to some degree the very nature of the attack
itself achieved the objective to undermine confidence in the American
democratic election system.
Preventing this style of attack is difficult because it
requires a sophisticated level of training and situational awareness, primarily
on the part of private citizens and private companies. In order for Congress to
enhance cybersecurity in the election system, it must work with industry
leaders and stakeholders to outline standards and create tools for the private
and public sectors alike. An appropriately aggressive level of cooperation
between government entities and large technology companies such as Twitter and
Facebook, in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the United States, is
paramount to securing American elections.
Direct Hacking of Political Entities
As we now know, the
Russian Federation also hacked various systems in order to obtain emails and
other documents that it later disclosed publicly via a variety of means in an
effort to influence the outcome of the presidential election. Congress
must find a way—consistent with the Constitution—to work with political
candidates and organizations to protect sensitive communications and data. In
an NDAA context, this could mean funding for enhanced cybersecurity initiatives
and better-enforced security standards.
Targeting State Election Systems
The Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) identified 21 states that the Russians targeted
directly during the 2016 election. The DHS has assessed that there was no
tampering with actual votes, but in at least one case in the state of Illinois,
the Russians managed to access personal information about voters. DHS Cyber
Division Acting Director Dr. Samuel Liles expressed to the Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence that the other 20 states were likely scanned for
vulnerabilities and likened the effort to “a thief walking through your
neighborhood to see if anyone is home.”
In addition to issues
related to the Russian 2016 election hack, a full view of election security
factors should include those that have not yet been exploited, but are
vulnerable at present and could be the subjects of future attacks if left
unaddressed. We describe a few of these below.
When new voters register, they typically do so through a third-party organization or entity separate from the one that maintains the voter database—leaving multiple points of entry and thousands of employees and volunteers vulnerable to exploitation.Many of these organizations lack sophisticated infrastructure at the grassroots level to ensure that voter data is secure.
consider funding for a central clearinghouse to provide guidance on training,
streamlining, modernizing and securitizing the election registration system.
As is required by the
Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) each state maintains a database of voters that
contains their personal information. HAVA was created before encryption
technology was widely used, so the act does not require that any data in
transit be encrypted. The act does, however, require the data to be housed in a
single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive and computerized manner
that is defined, maintained and administered at the state level—leaving all of
the information a hacker could want in one convenient location. The act also
does not require that the system be segregated from others—say, for example,
business filings, which are also typically handled by each state’s secretary of
state. Therefore, if there were to be a simple IT department error in granting
access, the entire database would be compromised.
consider setting standards and funding a central clearinghouse to assist states
in creating initiatives to train state-level Departments of State on
cybersecurity best practices for election database management.
Precinct Voting Books
Another feature of
HAVA is the use of precinct voting books to identify the correct ballot for
each voter, based on the geographic location of their registered address and
their party affiliation. On election day, access to this personal voter data is
typically in the hands of part-time employees or poll workers who do not have
access to the cybersecurity training that full-time government employees have.
Congress should fund a
central clearinghouse to assist states in identifying threats, and training and
creating standards to ensure the highest level of election security across the
Additional Electoral Concerns
R Street Senior Fellow Paul Rosenzweig outlined five major election security concerns as follows:
The registration data
for voters could be manipulated and degraded, rendering it unreliable and
inaccurate, thereby creating questions as to who is an eligible voter;
Voter rolls could be
amended or supplemented to add or delete potential voters;
The entire voting
database could be encrypted by a ransomware attack on the day before an
election, rendering it unusable;
books could be likewise degraded, destroyed or rendered unavailable for use;
The actual voting
totals in individual machines could be altered; and
The broader voting
tallies across county- or state-level organizations could be manipulated via
interception and modification during the course of transmission to state
The bottom line, as
Rosenzweig puts it, is:
infrastructure system is severely under-resourced;
A lack of standards or
best practices creates a heterogenous attack surface;
infrastructure lacks a central clearinghouse for information regarding threats
consider funding the aforementioned initiatives to ensure that anyone who
handles personal voter data is well-equipped to detect and combat malicious
III. Security Implications of 5G
presented by 5G technologies are unprecedented and far-reaching. These
capabilities will profoundly enhance artificial intelligence, revolutionize the
medical field and fundamentally alter communications infrastructure as we know
it. There are two perspectives from which Congress must look at this issue:
competitiveness and security.
As with any emerging technology, it is essential that the United States be at the forefront of the 5G race. Currently we are being outpaced by China because their full attention (and a large chunk of their budget) is devoted to developing this and other emerging technologies—not to mention they have three times the population size of the United States. Competitiveness with China and other emerging technological giants presents a serious national security concern for the United States.
R Street Director of Technology and Innovation Policy Charles Duan puts it this way:
cybersecurity in a world of ubiquitous devices, an essential component is
competition among firms up and down the vertical chain. Competition promotes
better cybersecurity in at least two ways. First, multiple studies show that
competition encourages firms to improve their products on multiple vectors
including cybersecurity. Second, competition avoids a situation that security
experts call a “monoculture,” which increases vulnerability to severe
Congress should thus
approach invocations of cybersecurity threats with a dispassionate eye,
considering the consequences for competition of imposing restraints on trade in
the name of security. By the same token, to the extent that Congress considers
measures to increase security, its first line of approach should be reducing
entry barriers to new startup firms in order to increase competition.
When reauthorizing the NDAA,
Congress should take steps to ensure that 5G is a priority for the federal
government and the private sector. Funding should focus on making sure that the
U.S. is the leader in building and operating secure and reliable 5G networks by
leveraging our existing telecommunications infrastructure and supporting
innovation through free-market competition A substantial investment in 5G
infrastructure would maintain the United States’ competitive advantage and
strong global security presence.
When looking to secure the new network environments that a
5G world with new components like micro- and pico-cell architecture and
edge-based cloud computing will create, Congress might consider the following
components of a 5G security policy:
Edge-to-edge securitization: All connections to the enterprise
ecosystem must be identified and criticality rated to ensure that network
access requests can be authenticated.
New techniques to secure systems: Network segmentation is a tried
and true cybersecurity technique, but in order to enhance security for the 5G
environment, it is important to combine it with other techniques, such as
network slicing, in order to secure edge-to-edge, hybrid and co-managed
Security technology integration: Due to incredible data
transmission speeds that will come with 5G, it will be more important than ever
for systems to be deeply integrated in order to share threat intelligence,
correlate event data, inspect encrypted data and automate incident responses.
It will be necessary to rely heavily on automation, machine learning and other
artificial intelligence techniques to create a brand-new, adaptable security
In order to prepare adequately for a 5G world, Congress must
employ strategies it has never legislated on previously and that very few
people in the government are working with consistently. Securing the 5G network
will be an arduous but necessary task, and it will require a sizeable
investment from Congress.
IV. Testing the Cybersecurity of Existing DOD Systems
Government officials have shown increased awareness of cybersecurity’s importance. The DOD has issued or updated guidance regarding weapon systems’ cybersecurity fifteen times in the past four years alone.
However, merely creating (frequently changing) guidelines is not sufficient to ensure adequate cyber defenses. A report released last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that America’s weapon systems are actually permeated with cyber vulnerabilities. Weaknesses can be as basic as poor password management and unencrypted communications. In the GAO report, testers guessed one administrator’s password in only nine seconds. Testers also managed to surreptitiously observe remote monitors, send employees irritating pop-up messages, change or delete data, and even cause systems to shut down entirely. In one instance, a two-person test team hacked its way to full control of a system in just one day.
When GAO officials revealed these flaws, DOD officials pointed out the list of security controls they had already implemented. But mere compliance with static guidelines is insufficient. The reality is that America’s adversaries are constantly evolving, developing new types of malicious cyber actions. When one security control is put in place, adversaries will switch to other tactics, techniques and procedures, seeking and exploiting other vulnerabilities. The DOD must match, and indeed supersede, the agility of adversaries in the cyber realm.
Instead of creating
yet another best practices list, we recommend that through the NDAA Congress
authorize funding and resources for the DOD to enact systematic “red-teaming”
tests of all major systems, both current and in production. Red-teaming, in
which a designated group “attacks” a system the way a real adversary would,
would enhance the ability of DOD officials to determine where the most
significant vulnerabilities in each system lie.
In order to both identify and address cyber vulnerabilities, the DOD must be able to both recruit and retain a highly capable cyber workforce. In addition to understanding cybersecurity, DOD cybersecurity experts must also know how the agency’s acquisition process works and understand the technical aspects of each weapon system’s various components. But despite the crucial role these experts play, DOD salaries for cybersecurity experts are not competitive compared to those offered by private companies. According to Glassdoor, the average DOD cybersecurity analyst makes only $72,000 per year. These experts would be far better paid in the private sector, where top analysts often earn compensation of $200,000 per year or more. Therefore, we also recommend that the NDAA authorize funding that could be used to provide benefits and other financial incentives for IT professionals. The inability to hire and retain cybersecurity experts is a serious risk to U.S. national security.
V. National Space Force
The United States relies heavily on vulnerable space-based technical assets to conduct essential military and civilian affairs. As a result, the United States must take appropriate steps to protect and defend those assets from kinetic cyberattacks and other malicious activities by a range of threat actors. During the Cold War, space capabilities were primarily concentrated between the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union; now those capabilities have proliferated to many other nations. Between 1991 and 2016, 43 percent of new satellites were owned by countries outside of the United States and Russia, notably from China, Japan, India and Europe. The development of satellite technology brings several military advantages. Satellites make it easier to conduct command-and-control (C2) activities and deliver precision-guided munitions, the use of which by the U.S. military has grown tremendously since the 1991 Gulf War. Satellites are also used for navigation; intelligence gathering; and for early warning against strategic attack by, for example, ICBMs. The use of satellite communication systems (SATCOM) is so expansive that the DOD often must lease bandwidth from private operators in order to conduct military operations.
Satellites face many
security risks. Perhaps the most obvious threat is physical destruction—either
by an adversary destroying satellite ground stations through conventional
weapons or destroying satellites themselves using anti-satellite missiles.
Satellites can also be damaged or destroyed using high-powered lasers,
microwaves or electromagnetic pulses. In
other cases, it is not the satellite’s physical existence that is threatened,
but its functional capability. Jamming or spoofing radio frequency signals can
interfere with a satellite’s ability to send and receive data. For example,
Russia has launched four satellites suspected to have the capacity to
physically attack or disable U.S. satellites. China tested anti-satellite
missiles in 2007, 2010 and 2013. And both countries are developing tools such
as lasers and jammers that could interfere with a satellite’s performance.
But one of the most
dangerous threats satellites face is from malicious cyber actions. Satellites
offer hackers a variety of access points, including the antennas on both satellites
and their ground stations and user terminals here on earth. Malicious cyber
actions can range from stealing data, to sending fake or corrupt data, to a
complete shutdown of all satellite operations. Such malicious cyber actions can
be very hard to detect, and even when discovered, attribution to a particular
threat actor can be difficult. This attribution problem weakens deterrence and
can make it hard to hold malicious actors responsible.
We have already seen malicious cyber actors target U.S. satellites. Satellites operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA were compromised in 2007 and 2008; the hackers used a ground station in Norway to interfere with satellite communications for several minutes. In another cyber event, hackers gained control of systems at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And in 2014, hackers compromised the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather and satellite systems.
Thus, it is imperative that the 2020 NDAA authorize adequate funding to improve our current defenses in space significantly and then closely monitor the DOD’s use of such funds. Previous space-related projects have suffered from cost overruns and delays. As an example, by 2017, the Air Force Space Command’s Advanced Extremely High-Frequency satellite program’s costs had exceeded its budget by 118 percent, while the Space Based Infrared System program’s costs exceeded its original budget by 300 percent. Lack of clarity regarding the size of the current space-focused workforce as to exactly how defenseless our space assets are thus leaves in question whether a full-born “Space Force” is indeed needed, or whether some smaller space corps might serve better. Regardless, it appears that the militarization of outer space is imminent, if not already here. If the United States wants to retain its position as a global leader, the NDAA must provide sufficient funding for further development of U.S. military capabilities in space.
We would like to thank the Committee
for its attention to the matters presented above. If we or our colleagues at
the R Street Institute can be of any assistance to members of the Committee,
please feel free to contact us.
Research Associate, Cybersecurity
and National Security
Government Affairs Specialist
H.R.5515, John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for
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