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Renee Wynn, CIO, NASA
What are one or two of the most important initiatives you are currently undertaking or accomplished in the past year?
When I arrived at NASA four years ago our cybersecurity posture was considered by many including others in the federal government, as being high risk. So, when I came in, some of the basic processes associated with cybersecurity were not implemented or the ones that were implemented were done in a decentralized way. We did not have a true picture of who or what was on NASA's network. As a CIO, you should always know those two things. By the middle of 2019, we used more than 150 metrics and tools that the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget put together to help NASA manage its cybersecurity risks. We went from a high-risk position to managing risk. I'm proud of our NASA IT team and I’m grateful for the support that I received from NASA's senior leadership and the partnership with our missions. As you can imagine, that was not a small task to achieve when NASA has more than 300,000 pieces of hardware associated with IT.
We have brought Microsoft Office 365 and the full suite of tools into the NASA environment now. And finally, our adventure IT group at our Kennedy Space Center provided support for the NASA team which received an Emmy Award this year for the most outstanding Interactive Program for multimedia coverage of Demonstration Mission 1 project in collaboration with SpaceX.
CIOs or people who want to think about being a CIO should be able to communicate, ask questions, and set a vision that serves the business and the mission
What are some of the IT challenges you are facing within NASA?
In the beginning there were folks who believed there was a difference in IT management which was run by me and my Center CIOs and that which is managed by our missions. One of the things we had to do was come to an understanding that even mission IT is susceptible to hacks, threats, and vulnerabilities associated with nation states, and others trying to get at the intellectual property or the data at NASA.
It took a while to get a lot of folks aligned on the importance of putting tools on the agency's network and reporting back to CIO in terms of who and what was on the network. I would say leading and collaborating with people is probably the most difficult challenge. Once we got segments of our population on board with what we needed to do, we started to make measurable progress. We have a lot of different operating systems because we have satellites that were launched back in the 70s that are still bringing down data for the benefit of science and humanity. We can't do anything to disrupt it, but we do need to do our best to protect it. So first you've got people issues and leadership challenges and once you get into that good high trust mode the projects go well.
What Tech Trends are you seeing? Where do you see the future of IT modernization as it relates to the government over the next 2-5 years?
There is a lot of legacy IT at NASA. This includes our flying assets and some satellites that are much older. We can't change their operating systems and so IT cannot be modernized. But we certainly need to do what we can to protect them. Then there's another side of IT that does need to be modernized and this is an area of focus. This is an issue across the federal government. So, we will continue to see an awakening and a lot more effort within the federal government to modernize IT.
On the more technology side, the data are huge. NASA has loads of data. We just completed our celebration of Apollo 50 years. We brought back data from those 50 years to share with the public and to share with the globe on the great feat of landing on the moon which is amazing. We are going back by 2024. Those things that you can do to release the power of that data for the benefit of the mission or for the public we should be doing. There are ways to do that in a secure fashion i.e. How you store the data to make it easier to release. There are tools for data analytics which are going to be needed, there are the ethical uses of artificial intelligence, and you must understand the algorithms that are going into the AI. Also, we've got to understand the direction of 5G. More and more devices are smart! You've got to figure out quickly how to use that data for the benefit of the task in front of you, which in turns helps your people meet their mission.
Finally, within NASA, Air Force and others there are cyber security challenges associated with space. So, coming to terms with how to address our legacy satellites, protect them, as well as designing into new satellites that will be launched in the decade to come. And are they in the best posture for cybersecurity and the evolving threats that we face.