War on the digital front

War on the digital front

From the advent of weather balloons used for reconnaissance in 1861, to the first email sent in 1971, advancements of new technology have increased mission capabilities. However, with new advancements come new threats and challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory W. Bush)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- From the advent of weather balloons used for reconnaissance in 1861, to the first email sent in 1971, advancements of new technology have increased mission capabilities. However, with new advancements come new threats and challenges.

Now, every piece of technology used by Airmen to complete the 31st Fighter Wing mission is one way or another linked together under a single network. This network, used by nearly 5,000 individuals daily, is maintained and protected by five 31st Communications Squadron wing cybersecurity Airmen.

"Our primary mission is to secure the network and equip Airmen with the tools needed to fight off cyber threats," said Master Sgt. Joanne Lewis, 31st Communications Squadron wing cybersecurity section chief.

There are many policies and levels of defense in place to safeguard Aviano’s network from intruders.

"Our first line of defense against cyber security threats are our everyday users, Airmen," said Tech. Sgt. Nathan Reesman, 31st CS wing cybersecurity noncommissioned officer in-charge. "After that, there's a combination of vetting requirements for all systems and ensuring secure- and non-secure internet protocol router accreditation checklists are completed."

The Air Force utilizes two different types of networks for communications: NIPR and SIPR. NIPR is a private IP network used to exchange unclassified information, while SIPR is used to exchange classified material.

In order to fulfill these requirements for these two networks, the cybersecurity team enforces national, Department of Defense and Air Force security policies.

“We have certain policies we follow to add someone or a device to the network,” said Airman 1st Class Tyson Thomas, 31st CS cybersecurity apprentice. “We’re the judge, jury and executioner who governs what should and shouldn’t be approved. We’re kind of like the security forces of communications.”

There are three fundamental concepts of security that these Airmen adhere to on a daily basis – Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability.

Confidentiality refers to protecting information that’s transferred from one source to another through encryption methods.

“We encrypt all communications in transit, at rest or in use, in order to prevent an adversary from intercepting information,” said Reesman. “Encryption can be something as simple as an email or the frequencies our pilots communicate on.”

Encrypted or not, information flowing throughout these networks only has value if the information is correct. In order for correct information to flow, networks must be reliable.

“The integrity of our network is essential when preventing information from being modified while in transit,” said Thomas. “We do this by requiring digital certificates to access sensitive information.”

Encryptions and digital certificates are only effective when the network is up and running. Airmen would be in the dark if the network shut down and information stopped streaming.
“The availability of our network is essential to keep our mission operational. By providing a network that’s up and running, data flows between authorized personnel,” said Lewis.

Since everybody uses the network, enforcing proper use of it ensures it’s not compromised or damaged.

“The key to upholding a secured network is to make sure everyone is smart and safe while using it,” said Lewis. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to exercise safe use. If our network is compromised, everyone could lose access, ultimately affecting our ability to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.”