By Griffin Swartzell | Space Observer staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colorado — A network is only as secure as the people who use it. Everybody who has access to military network infrastructure is responsible for maintaining the core triad of a secure network: confidentiality, integrity and availability.
As with any tool in the warfighter’s arsenal, if the Air Force’s network cannot be trusted with total confidence at all times, it isn’t deployable and becomes a liability. It can hamper the Air Force’s ability to complete missions and may threaten national security. The responsibility for maintaining security and readiness rests on everyone from the President to the contractor changing batteries in a radio.
“The user thinks that they’re unimportant. Why are they significant?” said Christopher O’Dell, 21st Communications Squadron chief of cybersecurity. “If they log onto the network, they are just as critical as me, and I’m the information systems security manager for the entire 21st Space Wing.”
For their security and readiness mission, O’Dell and his team need every user with access to a military network to know how to do their part to maintain cybersecurity — that is, to maintain the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all military networks.
“Any compromise, any vulnerability, is a vulnerability of the system as a whole,” said O’Dell.
A vulnerability could allow enemies of the U.S. to access sensitive or confidential information, that puts not just cyber missions but all missions at risk. This could potentially cost the U.S. government money, affect the security of operations both at home and abroad, and put the safety of service members and civilians at risk.
“Information leaks could affect our allies or our own folks, whether they’re in the continental U.S. or deployed,” said Master Sgt. David Rafsky, 21st CS cybersecurity section chief.
Cyber readiness is like any other mission, demanding awareness and due diligence. Personnel need to be aware of and consistent in following Air Force policies with computers and communications, just like with any other security policies.
“Someone leaves their CAC in the system and leaves the system open and goes into another room, a threat can have access to the system,” said Rafsky.
“All they have to do is wait for the opportunity, for somebody to walk away, and then they browse to a site and type it in real quick. It pulls that malicious software, and they close the browser. It takes 20 seconds,” said O’Dell. “The user comes back and thinks that everything is secure because they’re on an Air Force network, but it’s been compromised under their account.”
Rafsky made note of a 2008 incident in which a foreign intelligence agent plugged a flash drive containing malicious software into a DoD computer, causing one of the biggest military network security breaches in U.S. history. At the time, it was unprecedented, and it resulted in sweeping changes to DoD security policies.
Threats may also come in the form of phishing attempts — that is, attempts to obtain personal or sensitive information through fraudulent e-mails that try to appear legitimate. They may entice targets to click a link, or enable content macros in order to steal information. According to Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith, 21st CS cybersecurity technician, phishing attempts may lack digital signatures, come from unusual or unexpected sources, or contain improper spelling or grammatical errors. To test security and readiness, the 21st CS has sent out imitation phishing e-mails.
“That’s been a tangible way we’ve been trying to make this real for Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Hamlyn, 21st CS commander. “There is a renewed focus within the Air Force to get our Airmen back to the mindset where they realize that they are the cyber sentries for our military network.”
“Every one of our Wing Cybersecurity offices everywhere, at every base, is responsible for keeping the entire enterprise as a whole secure,” said O’Dell. “We are all playing a part. If any one of us fail at our jobs, the whole enterprise is compromised.”
Rafsky offered a few action items that anyone with access to the Air Force network can act on:
Every Airman must always be vigilant and do their part in protecting our DoD network.
Always know your responsibilities when accessing, processing and protecting DoD systems.
Re-enforce your network responsibilities by periodically reviewing your signed agreement of rules of behavior and acceptable use standards for Air Force information technology.
Contact your cybersecurity liaison or the 21 SW cybersecurity office for any further questions or concerns.
If you encounter a malicious email or other potential cybersecurity issue, contact your unit security manager and the cybersecurity office at 719-556-4253. For a classified incident, call 719-556-0837.