Stop, think -- we all play a role in cyber defense

  • Published
  • By Julie Noakley
  • 81st Communications Squadron
Today we rely heavily on cyberspace to complete our mission. We access a myriad of information through cyberspace, from finances, transportation and training, to personnel movements and emergency response data. As technology increases our ability to access information, it also increases our vulnerabilities. The Department of Defense has been making strides to increase the security of our networks and protect our government information.

The information available through our DOD systems must be protected. We need to protect disclosure of personal information. We often hear about protecting Social Security numbers and financial information. Given the large presence of medical personnel at Keesler, we also hear about the importance of guarding against divulging health information to unauthorized persons.

Imagine the impact

But what impact would it have on operational security or terrorist threats? What would happen if our adversaries, such as foreign governments seeking dominance or terrorist organizations trying to further their agendas, were to access our data? Would it be important to these groups to know what we're teaching our Airmen about network protection or what type of weather equipment our personnel are using down range? What about the number of folks forward deployed? Would any of this be useful to an adversarial group planning an attack?

The U.S. government found that past physical attacks have been performed in conjunction with cyber attacks. Adversaries have attempted to attack and render vital command and control systems ineffective in detection and responses to physical attacks.

Major security threat

In the International Strategy for Cyberspace document released in May, President Barack Obama comments, "The digital world is no longer a lawless frontier, nor the province of a small elite ... this space continues to grow, develop and promote prosperity, security and openness ... this is why it is so important to protect." The growing number of attacks on our cyber networks has become, in President Obama's words, "one of the most serious economic and national security threats our nation faces."

So, how do you help prevent the disclosure of sensitive information? The most important things each of us can do -- stop and think. Pay attention to the websites you visit, the data you store and the information you send via email.

The Aug. 5 threat bulletin from the 624th Operations Center explained that a simple thing like visiting what you believe to be the Air Force Portal can result in unknowingly revealing personally identifiable information if the user is unaware of the warning signs. For more information aboutwhat to watch for when accessing official DOD websites, review the Cyber Threat Bulletin under the Cyber tab on the Air Force Portal.

Beyond thinking about the data we protect and the websites we visit, do you think about physical security? Do you challenge unknown individuals in your areas that are accessing government computers? What about people accessing secured rooms or closets that hold network infrastructure?

In a June 20 memo, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz stated, "Cyberspace pervades everything we do, in every domain, and extends from your workspace to the battlespace."

Pervasive nature of cyberspace

Because of the pervasive nature of cyberspace, it can no longer be left only to the technicians to ensure its security. Instead, it's the responsibility of each and every user. The Air Force has made strides in improving user awareness of this inherent responsibility by requiring information assurance training.

Air Force Instruction 33-115V2 requires all DOD military members, civilians and contractors to complete information assurance training, with annual refresher training. This training is intended to keep users informed of the potential risks associated with computer access and how to avoid inadvertent release of information to our adversaries. While it won't eliminate all mistakes, it will make you more aware of the risks and reduce your chances of falling prey to a phishing scheme or malicious logic attack.You may have already experienced the impact of failing to complete your training on time by finding that your user account has expired and being unable to log on to the network until it's done. Training required to obtain access to the network is standardized in the Air Force Information Assurance Awareness Training computer-based training course on the Advanced Distributed Learning Service. Other armed service information assurance type training doesn't satisfy this requirement.

During this mandatory training, you'll learn that malicious logic comes in many varieties and is typically an intrusion intended to perform an unauthorized function that causes harm to your computer or network. Some common forms of malicious logic are viruses, denial of service attacks, spyware and phishing.

Viruses, service denial, spyware, phishing

A virus is capable of attaching to disks or other files and replicating itself repeatedly, typically without user knowledge or permission. Viruses are spread through many means, but most commonly through email and websites. A denial of service attack is caused by generation of a lot of network traffic and "clogging" the communication lines or a system or service, making it unavailable to users. Spyware is intended to aid in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge while phishing schemes, also known as "social hacking," target individuals by tricking them into giving away information.

While there are automated tools in place to combat these types of malicious logic attacks, including antivirus software and intrusion detection devices, the most effective method is making sure you are educated! Users are the network's best source of defense; if you're armed with the right knowledge and aware of the potential pitfalls, you can help defend our network.

Things to remember

Be aware of to whom you are releasing information. In the age of social networking, phishing has become very prevalent. Don't release personal or government information unless the requestor has a true need to know. Be leery of email from unknown sources and don't open attachments from unconfirmed sources, emails without subject lines and non-DOD sources. Don't provide your username or password to anyone. There's no need to share this information with anyone. Avoid using your Air Force email address as login usernames or as a means of contact for non-DOD accounts.

In a July DOD news release, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "It is critical to strengthen our cyber capabilities to address the cyber threats we're facing." The release noted that more than 60,000 new malicious software programs or variations are identified every day threatening our security, our economy and our citizens.

Do you know what to do if you suspect your system has been affected by some type of malicious code or if you've been the victim of a phishing scheme? Immediately report the incident to your unit information assurance officer, computer security manager or the 81st Communications Squadron's communications focal point, 376-8627.

Our network is only as secure as its weakest link; don't be the weakest link!