The Maginot Line of Information Systems Security

Military cyber defenders face a tough challenge. Many of them have been trained in warfighting specialties like aviation, infantry, amphibious operations, submarine warfare etc, then one day they wake up with orders to a unit with operational cyber defense responsibilities.

I’ve seen great champions from these disciplines, including F-14 pilots and RIOs, make fantastic contributions to operational network defense and have many life-long friends who found themselves in positions like this. I’ve also been blessed with knowing strategic thinkers and cyber defenders with a deep respect for history, like Rick Forno. And an observation I’ve made is that when a warfighter new to cyber operations is in need of getting up to speed they are well served by connecting with Dr. Forno. His many writings, teachings and stream of thoughts by listsrv are great ways to get up to speed (and are also great for keeping up to speed).

One key strategic piece I would recommend all cyber operators in and out of government read is his March 1999 articulation of “The Maginot Line of Information Security.”

On ne passe pas — “they shall not pass”, was engraved in the Maginot line, a military fortification designed in the early 1900s to prevent a future German invasion of France.

Today we frequently hear cyber strategists reference the fact that our strategy can no longer be based on a Maginot Line type approach. I have heard this phrase in speeches made by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Commander of Cyber Command, The Director of the FBI and the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These and many others underscore how relevant study of history can be to our current challenges.

His entire discussion is worth a read, it ties in the writings of great military theorists and modern computer scientists and drives home the point that any solution that is based only on technology is going to be a failed approach.

Till you dive in yourself I’ll leave you with this timeless advice from Rick: “Good firewalls and other purely technical solutions do their work effectively, but to a clever and determined attacker they are just obstacles to be either broken or side-slipped, whichever is most effective. ”

See this and other works by Dr. Forno at:

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