US, Philippine Marines tackle cyber battlefield

When addressing the subjects of technology and innovation in his 2020 statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding Marine Corps readiness, the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, stated that “it is not just a matter of a straight budget plus up. It is about creating the multi-dimensional structures, the cross-functional partnerships, and the innovative culture that can leverage the new technologies to transform how the Marines operate.”

To channel this nature of innovation, advancement, and technological warfare, Marines of Defensive Cyberspace Operations-Internal Defensive Measures Company, 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, along with members of the Philippine Marine Corps, conducted an inaugural virtual meeting to identify cyber vulnerabilities and hone their strengths, April 19.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting served as the beginning of virtual interactions with Philippine forces to not only prove that interoperability must be a consistent building process that is adapting and expanding, but that the importance of cyber warfare and safeguarding networks and information against regional adversaries demands a nearly incessant commitment to the mission.

“Today we conducted a subject matter expert exchange that mostly consisted of cybersecurity, including host discovery and vulnerability programs,” Warrant Officer Zachary DeLong, a Defensive Cyberspace Weapons Officer stated. Weak network defenses present a unique set of challenges that threaten not only individual systems but the stability of the region.

In his opening remarks, Maj. Jean Paul San Gabriel, a Cyber Expert of the Philippine Marine Corps stated that “throughout the years, the PMC and MARFORPAC have made significant impact in the region by conducting International Defense and Security Engagements. In the advent of the Corps’ modernization, PMC is strengthening the capacity for archipelagic defense as part of the naval and joint forces. Included in this capacity building is cybersecurity operations which is the 4th Operational Domain of Warfare of the AFP. Unlike the air, sea, and land, cyberspace is a human-built domain and does not lie in the natural world. To put it simply, its complexity differs a lot from the other three. So it is high time that the Corps develop a way to adapt to this environment and cope with its evolution in order to be prepared for future warfare.”

Using open-source programs such as Wireshark, which analyzes web traffic and various features of a utilized network, and Nessus, which analyzes how vulnerable a network is to various attacks. In the face of an unpredictable network defense environment, U.S. and Philippine Marines built upon their methods of maintaining a strong cyber posture within it.

While addressing near-peer threats to network and system security provides a distinct level of urgency, this exchange served as more than just an analysis of network defenses. “A lot of it was sharing knowledge and experience with a partnered nation and giving some feedback while continuing to build relationships in the pacific region,” stated Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Brown, a Defensive Cyberspace Operator.

“It’s going to feed into how we respond in the future. If we see something unique that we can share with somebody else, and they see something unique to them, we can [incorporate] that into what we’re looking for,” Brown said.

DeLong explained that the virtual exchange proved that III MEF’s continuous commitment to strengthening partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region does not have to be limited to physical interactions saying the training, “allows us to work better in a coalition force.”

Though this is the first time U.S. and Philippine forces have worked virtually to address network vulnerabilities, Brown does not believe it should be the last. “We’re hoping to expand on what we did today and reaching out to forces that utilize the same methodologies we do. If we keep hearing from everybody, it only makes us better, and I can’t wait to do it again.” MARINES.MIL