Marine Corps Takes Hybrid Approach to Zero Trust Architecture

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Identity and automation support military personnel in implementing a Zero Trust architecture, but a skilled workforce is still required.

Marines test next-generation technologies to provide the opportunity to evaluate innovations that improve the Marine’s survivability, lethality, and connectivity in a complex urban environment. Photo credit: US Marine Corps/DVIDS

A zero-trust architecture is a way to build safeties into the frameworks of everything you do. It gives you a specific set of tenants, principles, or mandates based on the documents you use, according to Renata Spinks, deputy CIO of the United States Marine Corps.

During a recent Federal Insights Exchange webinar, Spinks said the Marine Corps has taken a hybrid approach to zero trust. The service not only looks at different areas of information and how they apply to their unique mission threads, but also focuses its attention on identity.

“Zero trust for us was a keystone architecture that we needed to focus on, and from the Marine Corps perspective, we chose to focus on identity,” Spinks said. “If we can manage our identities and have access controls to a place where we can grant that conditional access based not only on your role but also your behavior pattern.”

Spinks thinks automation, another area of ​​focus for the Marine Corps, is about maintaining compliance through risk assessments. Ensuring you can modernize processes that accredit systems on an ongoing basis not only helps with security, but also increases momentum for military personnel.

Spinks noted that in situations where lives are at stake, personnel on the ground should be able to have information when their application is identified as dangerous.

“So the Marine Corps is focused on the user, the Marine, and what that Marine needs anytime, anytime, anywhere at the speed of light,” Spinks said. “The combat piece, the ground boots, is really where you need to go to see the challenges they face and the problems they solve so you can understand the sense of urgency.

“I think it is important to educate our fleet maritime forces, workforce and decision makers on what these controls are and why inheriting controls is so critical and why these platforms are supported from continuous way. Where we can find efficiencies and then we need to make sure the implementation is as tight as possible,” Spinks added.

Spinks also discussed some of the talent workforce challenges currently facing the Marine Corps.

“We are always on the lookout for talent. We are hiring heavily for MOS Application Development where you have the chance to bring a skill set into Marine Corps. We also host innovation challenges, and these give us a chance to see people’s talent and learn what’s within the realm of the possible,” she said.

A few months ago, Spinks created several High Quality Expert (HQE) positions, which is another way the Marine Corps is trying to address workforce challenges. She said from a compensation perspective the industry would win, but from a value perspective it depends on the impact.

“We can’t interview, but we’re making sure that we liaise closely with our acquisition team to say here’s what those things mean and some of the challenges that we’re trying to address in those areas so that we can equip them when their reviews,” Spinks said. “How we manage our talent isn’t just about recruiting and onboarding people, it’s also how you manage compensation, how you manage the morale of those you we hire and enter the Corps of Marines who come to serve their country.”

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