Rear Adm. Shannon: Our ships and the Internet

The following blog was written by Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commander, Military Sealift Command. Internet access issues are a common theme when MSC civilian mariners gather. Shannon talks about the “white list,” how to work with it and future plans to deal with the issue.

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One of our civilian mariners’ most constant complaints involves the “white list” of approved websites.  I get questions about it every time I visit ships or hold an All Hands Call where mariners are present. Civilian mariners tell me that our list can get in the way of mission business such as ordering needed parts to fix broken equipment and ships.

First, let me explain why we have the “white list” in the first place. It blocks access to bandwidth-intensive sites such as streaming media and social media sites. This was a big concern under the Bandwidth Efficient Satellite Transport (BEST) system used by our MSC ships for satellite communications. The BEST system shared satellite download capacity, so high use by one ship could saturate the total bandwidth for multiple ships in the same area, denying them timely access. The good news is that the BEST system is being replaced by the Next Generation Wideband (NGW) satellite communications system that provides dedicated bandwidth to each of our ships. As NGW deploys, bandwidth is becoming less of a driver for this issue.

But, the second, and more important, reason for our “white list” is to reduce unintentional connections to malicious websites. Bad stuff can happen when you save an infected attachment, click on a link, or otherwise try to gain access to or read additional information on malicious websites. Following a link or cutting and pasting it into your browser can trigger the download of malicious software that can corrupt whole networks, reducing our operational capability and requiring very costly and timely cleanup, during which the whole ship is totally off line as far as the Internet is concerned. That affects our mission, our readiness and our service to our customers. Here’s what we’re doing about the problem.

First, our N6 computer/communications team is increasing the number of approving officials for requests to review specific sites our mariners say they need to conduct business. This includes a relaxing of our approval requirements.

Second, our N6 team continues to approve all business-related, weather, map, parts, travel, government, banking, medical, low-bandwidth news and educational sites. At the same time, our team will continue disapproving Navy blacklisted, social media, high-bandwidth, multimedia-streaming and duplicative sites.

Here are some interesting statistics:  over the past four years, we received 3,918 requests to approve individual sites. Of those, 1,658 (about 42 percent) were approved. Another 1,894 were disapproved because they were duplicate site requests, had bad URLs or alternate sites were already available. Only 366 requests were denied, and none of those was appealed. That’s only a 10 percent denial rate.

One plan under consideration is to increase Internet access for our fleet by developing segregated “Internet cafes” aboard our ships outside the business network. The cafes would have no “white list” restrictions. We are assessing this capability now and have targeted implementation for fiscal year 2016.

Meanwhile, if you want to request access to a site on the “white list,” submit a request form using http://www.msc.navy.mil/survey/blocked.asp. This link is also given to you in the error message aboard ship when you attempt to access a non-approved site. Fill out the form. Each is reviewed by a real person, not a machine, for validity, duplicate sites and bandwidth usage. It’s also checked against the Navy “black list.” When a decision is made, feedback is provided to the requestor. If approved, our “white list” is updated. Written appeals must be routed up through program managers. Ideally, requests received Monday through Friday will be processed within 24 hours. Holidays and weekends may extend that to 72 hours, but you will get an answer as quickly as possible.

I understand your frustration. We’re working on the problem. Please have a little more patience, and work the system for the quickest results.    

Thanks for your service,

T.K. Shannon
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command

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