October 29, 2020

Brains Out of the Footlocker: Lessons from General Stanley McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s New York Times best-selling book Team of Teams begins with a narrative about an enemy that US Troops outnumbered, outresourced and should have—by all accounts—dominated. Yet, they were not dominating. They were losing badly.  The enemy was like nothing they had ever seen—a living, adapting organism. US Troops had to morph and morph again to contain and reduce the threat. That narrative could be Cybersecurity’s except for one critical difference: Cybersecurity has failed to morph.

Forcepoint To The Point Podcast

During my discussion on To The Point Cybersecurity with the general, he drew analogies between today's cyber adversaries and the terrorist groups he faced in the early 2000’s. If we are to prevail against these cyber adversaries, we too must become a resilient, living, adapting organism.  

Why We Must Morph

Cyber defense has largely relied on the same tactics over and over, defending against mostly known threats. The Cyber age brings unprecedented speed of action and exponentially increased number of variables making it impossible to use the same tactics twice or even predict outcomes. With the speed of sending 140 characters, doubt can be sown to plummet stock prices, ensue riots and ultimately destroy people’s confidence in the system. 

How Do We Win?

We can start by understanding our adversary and, maybe more importantly, understanding ourselves. We should examine, how we operate vs how the adversary operates and ask how we need to change. Processes like acquisitions and command and control are two areas thwarting cyber defense.

We must morph command and control to operate more like the cardiovascular system—pushing information out like blood to the entire organization and with-it not just empowerment but expectation for individuals to act. We should not wait for a catastrophic event to start this transformation; now is the time to shed antiquated constraints.

Brains Out of the Footlocker

General McChrystal’s father often told his children "Put your brains in the footlocker, I'll do the thinking around here." In our complex Cyber environment, the idea of one person having all the answers, as General McChrystal confided, is “ B.S.” No one person has all the answers, and something as complex as cyber defense, requires the wisdom of the crowd. In fact, it is essential to our ability to execute and successfully concur challenges.

Change Must Start at the Federal Level

Resilient Cybersecurity requires an unprecedented interaction that starts at the Federal level. Not only must we examine and adjust how our systems and processes work, we must share information across service providers, firms and agencies. Although change should start there, commercial organizations must also examine their processes and morph.

Liaisons and fusion cells could be the beginning of this interaction, connecting a number of different entities in a capability that pumps out information much like the cardiovascular system, making it possible to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, changing the flow of information so that it is a strength not a vulnerability, creating resiliency.

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About Forcepoint

Forcepoint is the leading user and data protection cybersecurity company, entrusted to safeguard organizations while driving digital transformation and growth. Our solutions adapt in real-time to how people interact with data, providing secure access while enabling employees to create value.