The United States as a nation knows how to maximize its resources, that is one of the main advantages she has compared to other industrialized nations. The ‘double duty’ of a government agency or installation is usually done covertly in order not to attract attention, both internal and external. As cybersecurity defense needs grew not only for a private company, but for government institutions as well, giving a nuclear research lab the duty to have anti-cybercrime functionality covertly is a worthwhile effort.
Enter Idaho National Laboratory, where a group of 50 individuals do high-end cybersecurity research within the walls of an office officially designed for nuclear research. Why the nuclear research lab and not an office in the Silicon Valley? Because of the environment where suspicion from the public and 3rd parties can be minimized, if not prevented. It takes a lot of effort, manpower, time and money to maintain an elite team of 50 people doing jobs that didn’t exist officially in the government roster.
They want to catch vulnerabilities at the earliest possible, defeating private cybersecurity firms AKA antimalware authors most of the time. As the government maintains and deals with legacy systems and applications, the cause of concern is undiscovered vulnerability with them. “This is no joke — there are vulnerabilities out there. We’re pretty much in reaction mode right now,” explained Scott Cramer, the cybersecurity program lead.
The facility expects a huge expansion soon, as a new supercomputer installation to the tune of $85 million will be stored in the lab’s Cybercore Integration Center. It is expected to be stationed by at least 200 employees. “We’re almost out of space, and we’re hiring like mad. So having that (integration center) building in a year is going to be incredible for us,” explained Cramer.
Critical Infrastructure Control Systems, that is the specific hardware being checked by the team on a regular basis. This has direct effect on how the government IT infrastructure works on a daily basis, which needs to be monitored 24/7 on any instances of unauthorized access and infiltration. The facility also houses a very critical data restoration unit, where data residing even in drives that are physically and chemically damaged can still be recovered. The lab also opens its doors even to non-Americans to join them, especially those who are smart with these technologies, as long as they are willing to cooperate and pledge allegiance to the United States.
“Those are the kids we’re looking for. The problem is so new and challenging that we don’t have the workforce right now to challenge the problem efficiently. We’re in a bit of a scramble mode to help get caught up and train folks to get our arms around a big national challenge,” concluded Darrent Stephen, Idaho National Laboratory’s Cybersecurity Researcher.
It takes more than plain intellect to work in a high tech facility of the cybersecurity team at Idaho National Laboratory. They also need to be driven with passion, as their every move protects Americans from trouble, preserving the government’s IT infrastructure against external disruptions and malicious infiltration.