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Army Corps of Engineers Cyber Defense

Delivering secure facilities

 

 

“It’s like hitting a moving target,” he said. “And that’s a challenge. We have policies that are currently evolving. So you could potentially go down a path and think you’re moving in the right direction. Then we’ll have a policy that changes and we’ve got to change our buying solution to regain that target.

“But that’s goodness,” he asserted. “At the end of the day, it’s good that policy changes, because it’s capturing shortcomings, and it’s only enhancing our capabilities as a Department of Defense service branch.”

He continued, “The threats will always evolve. We’ll have to be proactive in evolving, too, with the threat.”

smart ocholi

Smart Ocholi serves on the front lines of USACE’s efforts to both automate and protect hydropower infrastructure and capabilities. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Billie Johnson

Along with the myriad TCX activities, USACE cyber defense activities also extend out into USACE’s regional districts.

An example can be found in Portland District, where Smart Ocholi has followed a unique career path to his current USACE role: leading a cyber protection team. Among other activities, the team is currently helping to strengthen computer control systems for the area’s hydropower plants.

After he earned his electronics engineering degree in Nigeria, Ocholi and his wife came to America under the annual U.S. Visa Lottery Program in 2002, shortly after the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Their commitment to their new country was reflected by the fact that both husband and wife subsequently joined the U.S. Army on the same day.

“It was a great chance for us to contribute to the country that has given us such great opportunities,” he said. “And it’s an honor and privilege to serve in the greatest army in the world.”

Although Ocholi had goals of earning a military commission and a full military career, late in his initial tour he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he sustained injuries that mandated a change in plans. Subsequent activities included earning his Ph.D., a stint in private industry, and eventual transition into USACE in May 2009.

“In 2012, I joined the group I’m working with now,” he recalled. “Then it was called the Generic Data Acquisition and Control Systems group. And then around 2014, it became its own branch with three sections: application control; application development; and cyber security and reliability compliance.”

The internet has become the ‘go-to place’ for any person interested in doing something malicious. Just jump on the internet and you will find how to do it. I mentioned that some people do it for bragging rights or some people do it because they’re bored and don’t have anything else to do.

Ocholi has been the section chief of that third element since June 2014.

“We have been trying to stay in the midst of change with regard to cybersecurity,” he said. “And during this time, we have been able to participate in a number of collaborative efforts with DHS [Department of Homeland Security], FBI, and a number of other federal agencies. We have also worked in conjunction with other state authorities, local authorities, and tribal governments that we have around us here in Portland. Sometimes the collaboration also involves universities and other academia, because they are trying to keep up with all these programs too.”

Ocholi said that the external collaboration has been “an opportunity to meet these people and bring back the expertise they have. And sometimes we share our own expertise. For example, I’m currently representing the Corps in what is called InfraGard. Supported by the FBI, it’s a collection of different industries – energy, finance, and others. They have state chapters and I am honored to be a member of the board of directors for the Oregon chapter. And what we do is try to collaborate and bring to the table what the Corps is able to offer.“

“Some of the owners of critical infrastructure in this country don’t have cybersecurity resources or manpower,” Ocholi said, then added, “They always want to come to these kinds of gatherings to see what they might be able to use – to help stay one step ahead of the bad guys.”

He characterized the bad guys’ efforts as “trolling day and night to try to create some kind of problem for us – for bragging rights, stealing technology, or maybe just to make a political statement.”

Our ultimate responsibility is to our installation partners that utilize us as a conduit to execute their mission. It is of the utmost importance that we deliver a secure and usable product into the field. All of these initiatives, at the end of the day, are trying to meet the requirements, and deliver to our customer base, and our partners, secure and usable facilities.

Not surprisingly, Ocholi predicted that the increasing adeptness of those potential cyber attackers will help to drive cyber defense throughout the coming years.

“The internet has become the ‘go-to place’ for any person interested in doing something malicious,” he said. “Just jump on the internet and you will find how to do it. I mentioned that some people do it for bragging rights or some people do it because they’re bored and don’t have anything else to do. But looking down the road from today, I think we are going to be having a greater, broader scope of challenges, because we’ll be dealing with new individuals that have access.”

Ocholi continued, “At the same time, we will continue to simplify how we do things in our daily lives by expanding the employment of computers in our environment. So we will also have to be prepared for how the attacks against the vulnerabilities will increase. And that will be a challenge to us, because we will try to bring the new technology into what we do and in the process we will be opening doors for attacks and things that we really don’t know.”

In his own closing thoughts, Shepard observed, “Our ultimate responsibility is to our installation partners that utilize us as a conduit to execute their mission. It is of the utmost importance that we deliver a secure and usable product into the field. All of these initiatives, at the end of the day, are trying to meet the requirements, and deliver to our customer base, and our partners, secure and usable facilities.”

This article was first published in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces 2016-2017 Edition magazine.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

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