US Department of Defense to Accelerate Its Windows 10 Upgrade

U.S. Department of Defense

The US Department of Defense is making its upgrade to Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system a priority for the rest of the year. Coming in the wake of last week’s global ransomware attacks, the organisation aims to “maximise its capability” by utilising new technologies.

Historically, government organisations have upgraded to new operating systems years after they were launched, often rendering them obsolete at the time of introduction. The rigorous approval processes required for technology used in federal agencies has prevented the rapid adoption of newer systems.

John Zangardi, acting chief information officer at the Defense Department, wants to change that. The Department of Defense (DoD) is breaking from tradition by undertaking a far-reaching effort to move to Windows 10. The operation, publicly announced in March 2016, will now be complete by the end of the year.

The scale of the project exceeds any other Windows 10 deployment. The organisation is looking to upgrade over 4 million desktops and laptops to the new platform, an aim described by Microsoft as “unprecedented” for such a large organisation. Windows 10 is currently used by 500 million people worldwide.

A man works on a laptop displaying computer code and a padlock on the display
[Image by Rawpixel/Thinkstock]Featured image credit: Thinkstock

Speaking to Federal News Radio, Zangardi explained why the Department is so keen to use Windows 10. The bulk of its appeal comes from its continuous updates model, enabling it to be used in-place with relatively little maintenance for years into the future. An effort comparable to the one in completion now might not be required for another decade.

This characteristic makes the “challenge” of rolling out Windows 10 across the organisation an important priority for the Department throughout 2017. “It’s important to get Win 10 out there because it changes how we do business,” Federal News Radio reports Zangardi said.

The DoD is also hoping to improve its operational efficiency by using the more modern technology. Instead of being constrained by older operating systems, it can look ahead towards the future. It will be better placed to manage other areas of its business. This includes putting taxpayer money “into the procurement of planes, or ships or tanks or bullets,” rather than solving IT inefficiencies.

Alongside the roll-out of Windows 10, the DoD is developing a new centralised office enterprise platform. The software will allow tools used across the business to be integrated into a single hub, reducing the quantity of third-party apps required. This will help to improve security by reducing the attack surface within the department.

The Defense Enterprise Office Platform (DEOS) will be a suite of communication and content management tools that includes email, document sharing and calling facilities. The platform will enable the department to pivot towards a more agile and mobile business model with a heightened focus on collaboration. Through the combined implementation of Windows 10 and DEOS, Zangardi is intending to push the DoD into a modern operating capacity similar to the digital-first focus used by non-governmental organisations across the US.

Stock photo of the Windows 10 S Start screen
[Image by Microsoft]Featured image credit: Microsoft

The overarching aim of the modernization endeavours is “to maximise capability and lethality, reduce the cyberattack surface, understand the department’s information technology infrastructure and build up efficiency and effectiveness.” It’s an effort that will eventually benefit every American citizen by making the DoD a more effective organisation that is itself better defended.

Last week’s ransomware attack that targeted organisations and businesses worldwide has forced many IT leaders to take a hard look at the state of their systems. As the campaign shut down hospitals and companies across the globe, Microsoft took the unprecedented step of releasing a new update for Windows XP, its 16-year-old unsupported operating system. This exception was made to quell the WannaCrypt worm and isn’t likely to be repeated in the future, leaving users at risk again in the face of the next attack.

Last year, Terry Halvorsen – the DoD’s former CIO, responsible for initiating the Windows 10 transition – said that the Department’s networks are “getting shot at” almost every day. Although it wasn’t impacted by WannaCrypt, the worm has reaffirmed the need to increase IT investment and migrate to a modern platform. The ransomware was detected and quarantined by devices running supported versions of Windows with the March security updates installed.

By moving to Windows 10 and embracing its always-on updates, the DoD will be able to have better confidence in the protection around its own services as cyberattacks and digital extortion become daily occurrences. “Our approach will be one of risk-aware versus risk-averse,” Zangardi explained. The systems should be up and running by the end of the year.

[Featured Image by U.S. Department of Defense]