Army launches upgraded collaboration platform; cybersecurity at the forefront

A service-wide migration to Army 365, which provides Soldiers and Army civilians with a cloud-based collaboration capability was completed June 16, 2021.

The new Army program is an upgrade to the Commercial Virtual Environment fielded to the Department of Defense workforce last spring, and improves information sharing capabilities while adding cybersecurity measures.

Delivery of the enhanced security capability to the Army enterprise was facilitated by the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center, a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, in partnership with Army Cyber Command, Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, and Microsoft.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOD instituted the largest remote work program in its history. As a key part of that, the Microsoft cloud-based CVR environment was fielded to support collaboration among 1.2 million service members, civilians and support contractors.

A three-phased approach will transition all Microsoft Teams, email, and SharePoint systems to Army 365, which also uses Microsoft cloud solutions, providing a secure, comprehensive virtual collaboration environment.

“When DoD needed a team to provide 24×7 Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) for CVR [last year], they turned to the C5ISR Center because of our subject matter expertise in cloud and our history of rapidly adapting to new technologies,” said Greg Weaver, operations manager of the Center’s Defensive Cyber Solutions Branch. The C5ISR Center transitioned the CVR cybersecurity services mission to the Defense Information Systems Agency in the fall of 2020.

Weaver explained the Army also approached the C5ISR Center to apply the knowledge gained when working with CVR to developing Army 365, as well as to perform the sustaining DCO mission.

CVR was never intended to be permanent, said Carlos Mateo, a cybersecurity architect at the C5ISR Center, who explained each military service was given the task of creating its own similar environments to build on the successes of CVR. Army 365 is the Army’s sustaining environment to ensure there is no loss of the capabilities that have improved the Army’s ability to perform its mission.

“Because it is funded entirely by Army, the capabilities provided by Army 365 will be sustained so long as they are useful, and Army has control of the policies that govern it,” he explained. “The biggest benefit to Army 365 is it exists on Microsoft’s government cloud fabric, where CVR existed on the commercial cloud fabric. This allows for a wider range of data to be stored in the environment compared to CVR.”

As users log into the Army 365 environment for the first time, they will see a suite of programs and resources to include video and voice teleconferencing, email, instant messaging and access to shared drives.

By integrating on a single platform for collaboration and communication, Soldiers, civilians and support contractors will be able to collaborate easily with other Army users and organizations, as well as provide the capability for users from groups to communicate using a single platform, said Lawrence Knachel, an information security specialist for the Center.

“Speaking from personal experience, the ability to, within minutes, bring a group of stakeholders and experts from across Army together has let us solve problems in a more quick, efficient, and effective manner,” Knachel said. “Army 365 will be the platform that continues to build and improve on that capability. Through it all, the C5ISR Center will ensure the Army 365 defensive cyber operations environment is configured to meet DOD and Army requirements, as well as closely monitored for anomalies and tuned to identify the latest threats.”

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