Chris Alexander oversees Parsons’ efforts to pursue potential opportunities in the public sector market as executive vice president and director of global business development for the company’s government services segment.
The 12-year company veteran was promoted to the global BD leadership role in 2013 and managed business development functions for the segment’s national security and defense division prior to his current role.
Alexander recently spoke to ExecutiveBiz for an in-depth conversation on Parsons’ larger cybersecurity market strategy, how the company’s acquisition of Secure Missions Solutions fits into that plan and offers a forecast for how cyber information sharing could take shape over the next year.
ExecutiveBiz: What attributes do you see Secure Missions Solutions bringing to the table at Parsons?
Chris Alexander: Our acquisition of Secure Mission Solutions was strategic because we wanted to expand our customer base and our critical asset protection and cybersecurity skill set so that we could broaden our offerings to the intelligence community. Secure Mission Solutions brings a number of attributes and capabilities that are important to us.
First, is their strong pedigree in computer network defense. They are currently providing this service to our customers, protecting what is arguably the most important defense research and engineering network in the country and other critical assets.
Second, is their converged security offering, or their ability to combine physical security with cybersecurity — employing techniques such as an iris scan or a fingerprint ID. This converged security offering allows for very rapid processing and for much greater and effective security at federal facilities.
One of the lessons we've learned from recent incidents and breaches in security is that it's extremely important to know where employees are and whether the access cards they hold are actually theirs, and to understand what ingress and egress protocols are working to make sure that workforces are adequately protected.
Our product fully meets all of the requirements necessary to satisfy the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. Lastly, through their cybersecurity capability, Secure Mission Solutions combines cyber with Parsons' legacy engineering programs. We are currently in the process of applying cybersecurity to traditional engineering control systems or industrial control systems/supervisory control and data acquisition systems.
This will protect legacy networks and utility systems to ensure that they are not vulnerable to cyber breaches. Secure Mission Solutions brings the cyber component and by combining that and working with our engineers who have a long history supporting wastewater treatment plants, utilities, chemical and industrial processes, and classified facilities, we can provide protections for industry going forward.
ExecutiveBiz: What areas will Parsons and its partners focus on at the new Centreville, Va. Cyber Hub?
Chris Alexander: We were looking for industry to come to us with their issues. We are seeing an increasing number of breaches across commerce and finance, fewer across the industrial realm, but the latter will increase. Intellectual property theft is rampant and the shutdown of critical infrastructure potentially devastating. We are looking to help our customers not only in the form of firewalls protecting IP and ensuring that networks aren't breached, but also to keep systems operational.
The Cyber Solutions Center in Centreville, Va. is a hands-on laboratory where our customers can bring a portion of their networks so we can create a shadow network that emulates their architectures. Using the center's advanced network simulation capabilities, we can assess their security vulnerabilities. We can then show them what we can do to enhance the security of their operating environments without exposing their actual networks in any way, shape or form.
As we look at the increasing use of smart meters, more security systems being implemented, legacy and new processes being upgraded, as well as new components added to these processes, we see a need for the services provided in this facility to identify the vulnerability points in these systems–both before they go into production or even after they've been installed when some form of mitigation can be implemented.
ExecutiveBiz: Which aspects of cyber information sharing should be most emphasized by industry?
Chris Alexander: We are actually a participant in the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team program, and one of the activities associated with this is working with industry to provide them with malware alerts. We are also seeing — to a certain extent — that organizations are hesitant to go public with breaches because there are a lot of ramifications associated with them. There is the issue of bad press and the issue of whether or not they had proper controls in place.
A great example is a high-tech company that didn't have an adequate form of network defense. They were breached a few years ago but chose not to implement stronger controls. When you are dealing with publicly traded companies, this type of exposure can cause quite a hit to the stock price. We need to get beyond that thinking, which inhibits information sharing, because we are seeing more effective malware, and we are going to continue to see newer and more sophisticated means of cyber attack.
If this information is not communicated early, then patches and mitigation measures are not taken on a widespread basis. We have to reach a point of information sharing so that the damage on the back end will be minimal, and, more important, this malware will be addressed much more expeditiously because folks are communicating.
A recent example was where a number of laptops at the FAA were affected. While we didn't have a direct contract to provide the needed support, we have an auxiliary contract where we support the FAA in providing upgrades to technology in addition to a broad swath of design and engineering construction management for ongoing programs at airports across the country.
When this issue surfaced we fortuitously had direct experience with this particular Trojan horse and it was not new to us. The bottom line is that we were able to provide a comprehensive analysis in an attempt to save them from having to destroy the laptops because we had experience mitigating this issue. Had there not been proactive communication between us, it could have been an even more expensive proposition for the U.S. government to throw away that much hardware.
While we didn't have a direct contract, we have an auxiliary contract where we support the FAA in providing a lot of airport security work and upgrades to technology in addition to a broad swath of design and engineering construction management support for ongoing programs at airports across the country. When this issue surfaced we luckily had direct experience with this particular Trojan horse and it was not new to us.
The bottom line is that we were able to go back for a comprehensive analysis and save them the ability to destroy these laptops because we had experience mitigating this issue. Had there not been proactive communication between us, it could have been a very expensive proposition for the U.S. government to be looking at throwing away that much hardware.
ExecutiveBiz: How does Parsons' work for NATO fall into its larger global strategy?
(Editor’s note: Parsons is a member of a team led by Leidos that won a potential six-year, seven-month, $77 million contract to implement a missile defense network for NATO)
Chris Alexander: The work we won for NATO is the second cycle of work to support the ballistic missile defense network throughout Europe. We are providing systems engineering support as well as some modeling and simulation. This dovetails nicely with our overarching strategy because we are a leading provider of the advisory and assistance services to the Missile Defense Agency.
Domestically, we support their programs across the board in battle management, modeling, simulation, operations, systems engineering and integration. Winning the work from NATO helps us look at how we can apply our experience and help our allies overseas who are much more interested now with developing a type of integrated air and missile defense system and protecting themselves against rogue states.
We know, for instance, that our allies in Poland are interested in establishing a system as well as Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Our experience with MDA as well as NATO support enables us to take our unique expertise and help our international allies.
ExecutiveBiz: Which portions of the space sector is Parsons interested in?
Chris Alexander: Parsons is interested in expanding to support NASA in base operations support and facility management. We are also active in the Operationally Responsive Space program. That work involves providing a lot of mission assurance data to support the joint warfighter commands in assessing battle management. It is taking information through satellite networks and ensuring the accuracy and integrity of this information to help our commanders make the right decisions as quickly as possible.
Today, we have satellite technology which is a far cry from what was essentially human intelligence back in the day. But it all ultimately gets you to the same point and, that is, those who have accurate battle management information are in the strongest position to win a particular engagement. We are looking to expand in that area in space and to provide more satellite communications support, similar to what we currently provide the Navy.