News | Nov. 7, 2018

DLA partnering with university students to tackle supply-chain information security

By Sara Moore, DLA Information Operations

A team of five students from the University of Virginia is using a semester-long class to study and propose a solution for improving supply-chain security for the Defense Logistics Agency.


DLA is partnering with the students for this unique program, called Hacking for Defense, which involves weeks of problem sourcing, stakeholder interviews, prototyping and testing to find solutions for some of the biggest challenges the Department of Defense faces.


The problem the UVA students selected is how to improve DLA’s subsistence supply chain industry partners’ understanding of new information security requirements and the resources available to assist in incorporating information security into their business operations. The problem’s sponsor, Brian Pippert with DLA Information Operations Cyber Resilience Integration, said he took on the problem at the request of the DLA Innovation Team because he knows how important it is to the stability of the agency’s supply chains and the warfighters. Industry partners need to understand the new DoD information security requirements and resources available to assist them with incorporating information security practices into their business operations, he said.


Pippert has already begun working closely with the students on defining and narrowing the problem before working on solutions. A key part of this process is interviews with stakeholders. Pippert has arranged for the students to interview employees and leadership from DLA Troop Support Subsistence, DLA’s prime vendors for Korea and Alaska, a manufacturer of ready-to-eat meals, contracting officers, an FBI agent, and experts from the DoD Cyber Crime Center. He has also shared policies and training information with the students and answered lots of questions. The students are very engaged, he said, and have already begun proposing some “quick win” solutions, like sharing resources with vendors during pre-proposal briefings, incorporating hyperlinks to resources in the solicitation, or developing a chatbot to answer industry partner questions.


I was surprised at how clear their picture was of the threats and what’s at stake here,” Pippert said of the students. “It’s really quite impressive how quickly they picked up on it.”


The students will spend the fall semester working on the problem, developing prototypes and potential solutions. Pippert will be working with them throughout the process, until they present their work at the Pentagon on December 7, 2018.


“What I’d like to see come out of this process is a simple, elegant way of educating our industry partners on the requirements and resources available to assist them in incorporating information security into their business operations,” Pippert said, adding that he’s encouraged by the work the students have done so far.

Hacking for Defense is a university sponsored for-credit class that teaches students to work with DoD and the Intelligence Community to better address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. Government sponsors submit challenges for consideration, and teams of students from universities across the country select challenges to work on, with support from their faculty and corporate sponsors.

The program benefits government agencies by giving them access to creative, motivated students to use a different way of thinking to solve some of their critical challenges, said Craig Gravitz of the DLA Innovation Team. Using rapid problem sourcing and iterative design, the students can quickly test and deploy solutions with guidance from experts in the government and industry, he noted.