Defending the Defenders: The USS Zumwalt

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By William Jackson

On October 15, 2016, the naval commissioning ceremony for the USS Zumwalt will take place in the Port of Baltimore. The USS Zumwalt is not only the newest ship in the U.S. Navy, it represents a new class of warship that takes naval technology to a new level.

According to the Navy, “USS Zumwalt is the largest destroyer and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world, with a brand-new, state-of-the-art electric propulsion system, wave-piercing tumblehome hull, small crew, stealth design and the latest war fighting technology and weaponry available.”

 “The Zumwalt is the most automated ship afloat” 

Named for Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations from 1970 to 1974 who oversaw a modernization of the naval fleet, the Zumwalt is the most automated ship afloat. Its stealth design reduces its radar profile, and despite its size, it will operate with a crew of about 150 –about half the complement of the current Arleigh Burke class destroyers. A single encrypted network will control shipboard applications, from the basic physical operations to advanced weapons systems.

Defending this new warship requires not just weapons, but also protecting its critical infrastructure.

Connected ship

Technology in warships is not new. According to Christopher Cleary, business development director at Tenable Network Security and a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, the internet is an increasingly important shipboard tool.

Internet connectivity on ships is used for crew morale, such as communications with family while at sea, and also can link to the NIPRNet, DoD’s Non-classified IP Router Network for sensitive information. Classified data is carried on SIPRNet, the Secret IP Router Network. Even classified communications are being moved to internet-based systems as part of the DoD’s Global Information Grid. All official record message traffic is secured by encryption.

 “Automation allows the ship to be operated by a small crew” 

While explicit details of the Zumwalt’s communications systems have not been made public, the Navy has hosted media tours of the ship, the first of its class, and explained the basic technology it employs. Its applications are all handled through the Total Ship Computing Environment, an encrypted onboard network. This supports the automation that allows the ship to be operated by a small crew, working from a control center much like the NOC of a land-based enterprise.

Naval officials explained that the Zumwalt uses a modular architecture to support a combination of commercial off-the-shelf and purpose-built technology intended to easily adapt throughout the operational life of the ship. There are 16 ruggedized Electronic Modular Enclosures (EME), each housing 235 electronics cabinets. Because the EMEs are ruggedized, they can safely house less expensive COTS products that can be easily replaced, so that the ship can be kept up-to-date throughout its decades of active service.

Protecting critical infrastructure

Although the stakes are high in securing the Zumwalt, the challenges are essentially those of securing any critical infrastructure: connections must be secured, data and traffic must be protected with strong encryption, access must be controlled through policy and enforcement, and administrators must have visibility into the entire infrastructure to continuously monitor and respond to activity in real time.

The Zumwalt’s automated systems control physical functions, from plumbing to radar, as well as handle communications. These pose the challenges of all Operational IT, Industrial Control or SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems.

Whatever the security tools used aboard the Zumwalt, they will have to perform essential functions, including identifying security requirements; establishing appropriate risk-based policies that clearly define cybersecurity roles and responsibilities of all managers, administrators and users; supporting these policies with a rigorous, ongoing risk-management process; and an effective configuration management process with routine self-assessments.

With the policies and processes in place, the solution must:

  • Identify and document all devices and connections to the networks, disconnecting all that are unnecessary or unauthorized.
  • Continuously evaluate the strength the security of all remaining connections and systems and implement the appropriate controls, including the security features provided by the vendors.
  • Establish strong controls over any medium that can access the networks, and use both internal and external intrusion detection with continuous monitoring.
  • Conduct periodic security audits and all equipment connected to the networks.

The IT architecture of the Zumwalt is designed to support evolving technology needs and capabilities. Its cybersecurity must also continuously monitor and respond to an evolving threat environment.

Tenable Network Security is proud to have our Federal Team attending the Zumwalt commissioning ceremony this weekend.

This content was authored by William Jackson and originally posted on the Tenable blog.

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About Tenable
Tenable™, Inc. is the Cyber Exposure company. Over 24,000 organizations of all sizes around the globe rely on Tenable to manage and measure their modern attack surface to accurately understand and reduce cyber risk. As the creator of Nessus®, Tenable built its platform from the ground up to deeply understand assets, networks and vulnerabilities, extending this knowledge and expertise into™ to deliver the world’s first platform to provide live visibility into any asset on any computing platform. Tenable customers include over 50 percent of the Fortune 500, large government agencies and organizations across the private and public sectors. Learn more at
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