Experts agree that global dependence on the Internet makes it a prime target for criminal hackers seeking to penetrate networks and otherwise victimize large organizations.

Les Rose, president of information security firm L-3’s national security solutions group, describes an evolution that’s taken place over the past several years that has elevated the Internet to the most attractive target for cybercriminals. Organizations used to think of their wide area networks, local area networks and the Internet as separate entities, Rose explained to Government Technology. But the breadth of information available on the Internet, and its primary role in commerce, business and government, has made the Internet, in essence, the new wide area network.

The constantly changing nature of online threats, Rose said, makes a traditional approach to product development, which can take as long as five years, ineffective. “Identifying the requirements, determining how you’re going to get the solution, having it developed, and then having it delivered – that timeline is really not a feasible way to deal with this threat,” he said.

In October, L-3 opened a cybersecurity lab, its National Security Solutions Center, on the Arlington County, Va., campus of Virginia Tech. The research facility unites 100 of L-3’s cybersecurity experts with university researchers to advance the cause of cybersecurity research and development.

Among the priorities at the lab, according to Rose, is new research that aims to complement the extensive development work of recent years focusing on machine-to-machine analytics and anomaly detection by inserting human analysis capabilities back into the equation.

“What we’re doing is looking at how we can change the paradigm of operations and actually employ what we believe is the most powerful analysis engine which is the human mind,” Rose explained.

Researchers are also devoting resources to enhancing device-to-device security in today’s largely mobile world. Focusing on Android devices in common use at agencies like the Department of Defense, research intends to allow secure communication between devices themselves and the information they access. Rose identifies these efforts as “lightweight virtualization.”

Terry Holzheimer, director of economic development for Arlington County, Va., where the lab is located, explains that this cutting edge research facility couldn’t have a more appropriate location.

Arlington County is home to many private-sector companies, as well as public facilities focused on national defense and homeland security, including the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The National Security Solutions Center is located in the Ballston corridor, one of seven urban villages in Arlington County.

”That's why Virginia Tech located a research center here in this Ballston neighborhood, because all of these facilities are within a five-minute walk of each other,” Holzheimer explained. “We've got a long history of Internet-related kinds of technology, cybersecurity being the latest ramification of it.”

Headquartered in New York, L-3 does a considerable amount of work with defense agencies, as well as homeland security. “From our perspective, this was the right place because it’s in the hub of a lot of research activities, the communication networks in and out of there are some of the best in the country, and the lab is in close proximity to our primary customers in Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland,” Rose explained.

With the exponential growth in the volume and size of threats coming in via the Internet, cybersecurity researchers at the National Security Solutions Center have their work cut out for them.

“We can’t afford to do without some of the technological research that’s happening here in Ballston, because it's all critical to national defense and homeland security,” said Holzheimer, adding that even in today’s challenging budgetary circumstances, cybersecurity must remain a priority. “You can’t choose not to do those kinds of things.”

Main photo: A representative of L-3 explains visual analytics research to Congressman Jim Moran (left) during an open house in Oct. L-3 National Security Solutions President Les Rose is pictured in the center. Courtesy of L-3 National Security Solutions. 

Noelle Knell, Assistant Web Editor Noelle Knell  |  Managing Editor

Government Technology managing editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience, writing about public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she graduated from the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.