Troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will have their hands full with deployments and training exercises all over the West Coast in 2016.
They will also be participating in a sweeping military software upgrade intended to make their technology more difficult to hack.
The Defense Department announced last week that it’s ordering its commands to upgrade their operating systems to Windows 10, a move that’s expected to bring the Microsoft platform to some 4 million military devices ranging from computers in headquarters to Strykers in the field.
It’s an attractive — and urgent — upgrade for the Pentagon because Windows 10 has several security improvements that make it a more challenging target for people who want to break into military servers, according Microsoft and military leaders.
Terry Halvorsen, the Defense Department’s chief information officer, set an ambitious deadline for the changeover. He wants it complete by next January.
Any commander who wants a waiver will have to get one from a service branch chief information officer.
“It is important for the department to rapidly transition to Microsoft Windows 10 in order to improve our cybersecurity posture, lower the cost of IT and streamline the IT operating environment,” Halvorsen wrote in a November memo that led up to last week’s announcement.
Microsoft crowed about the plan in a pair of blog posts, noting that the order signaled confidence from the government in its latest operating system.
Halvorsen told the company that the military spends $38 billion a year on cybersecurity, aiming to defend its secrets against criminal networks and foreign governments.
“Because the U.S. Department of Defense is a prime target of cyber criminals and one of the largest and most complex organizations in the world, its leaders know the importance of securing its baseline systems,” Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s vice president for Windows and Devices, wrote in one of the posts.
The upgrade won’t be simple.
An overview of the work ahead for the Army notes that it will require an assessment of how much military hardware is ready to receive Windows 10. Only about one-fifth of the Army’s devices are believed to be compliant with the new operating system.
The transition will also demand months of training to teach Army system administrators how to carry out the upgrade and the purchase of new hardware if old systems can’t work with Windows 10.
That’s why it may take two to three years for the Army to adopt Windows 10 across the service despite the ambitious timeline set by the Pentagon, according to an Army briefing obtained by The News Tribune.
The security improvements that appeal to the Army include:
▪ A guard against a common Windows hacking technique that can allow an intruder to skip password protections.
▪ SmartScreen, a filter that screens malicious websites.
▪ Windows Defender, an application that removes malicious software.
▪ Tools that anticipate how hackers might try to enter a military network.