As we head into the New Year, everyone is making lists. Here is another important (albeit short) one. Of all the “big” stories to keep your eye on for 2014, what are three, base-level “working-stiff” issues? They are mobile computing, defense readiness, and the connection between Special Operation Forces and intelligence. If we can get these right, it would take us a long way towards better security.

1. Mobile Computing: A continuing trend, mobile computing will get even bigger (and harder) this year. More and more folks are “living,” both personally and professionally, on mobile devices. Regardless of what our security guys say, this one is out of the box already. It will not go away, and frankly, it shouldn’t. The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is growing too, even among the Federal agencies. Everyone likes their own devices and tend to be more productive when on them. The continued growth of mobile device use, in many cases eclipsing standard computer use, is now the “way we roll.” The problem is the threat is also growing.

Few have good security software on their mobile devices, and many forget they are really computers. The bad guys are moving quickly to “harvest” these at best marginally protected sources of data. Additionally, many folks are compounding the issue by too often using insecure WiFi (coffee shops, hotels, local municipal). Like social media folks, it will not go away, so we must learn to use it more securely. Keep watch on this. It is exploding, and it has just begun.

2. Defense Readiness: Defense Readiness has no natural constituency, but it is critical to our ability to protect America and its interests. Budget cuts and sequestration have bled military readiness white. We are still “OK” for now, but the long-standing qualitative differential between U.S. Forces and potential adversaries will begin to close, and that is unacceptable. The skills and abilities that make our military better are perishable, and without adequate funding for training, repair, and modernization, it will atrophy faster than the Administration seems to believe. Congress and the White House have to fix readiness while turning back domestic entitlement spending, the real culprit of our fiscal crisis. If they don’t, American troops will pay the price the next time an unexpected event comes around the bend and we’re not as good as we need to be. We’ll recover, but given the pace of conflict today, “giving away” the initial engagement is both unwise and plain wrong.

3. SOF and Intel: The third area to watch is the growing use of Special Operations Forces and the connection between Title 10 (military opns) and Title 50 (Intel opns). As budgets shrink and there is little desire for big military actions, we will see the continuing trend to leverage SOF and Intel to protect our interests. This is good and appropriate. It is probably the only way we can have a shot at protecting our interests while we dig out of the fiscal mess we are in. That said, it requires a deft touch and some “appetite” suppressors. If you use these “in the shadows” quiet professionals of both the military and the Intel Community, you must use them correctly. Too brazen, and we look like bad guys. Too of often, and we start to put them at risk as the bad guys learn the tricks. Too light (big problem), and they get killed. They can do superhuman feats, but they are not immortal. In the present environment, SOF and Intel can hold off problems, fix some situations so they do not become problems at all, and set the conditions for successful use of other mean of power. This will become the “go to” use of military and intelligence power; if they are used correctly, many folks will never know it.

Other trends will certainly pop up, but these three subject are already here and are critical for the next year and beyond.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More