USA — Air Force Takes Steps to Defend Cyber Domain

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2010 — Com­put­er net­works can do a lot of things. They can turn your neighbor’s kid into a viral video phe­nom­e­non, they can let you know you’re about to miss your con­nec­tion in Atlanta, and they can be a line of defense in pro­tect­ing nation­al assets.

Maj. Gen. Michael J. Basla, vice com­man­der of Air Force Space Com­mand at Peter­son Air Force Base, Colo., is con­cerned with the latter. 

In a “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day, Basla dis­cussed the Air Force’s cyber­space mis­sion, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and the train­ing and edu­ca­tion the Air Force is pro­vid­ing to air­men in the field. 

Basla said the Air Force’s mis­sion empha­sizes mis­sion assur­ance: how to con­duct oper­a­tions in, to and from cyber­space and how to react as quick­ly as pos­si­ble to emerg­ing threats.

“There’s a great threat to Amer­i­can secu­ri­ty out there in the cyber­space domain, and it’s real, it’s sig­nif­i­cant, it’s per­sis­tent, and we are under attack every day,” Basla said. 

The defense of our net­works is essen­tial for us to con­duct all kinds of day-to-day activ­i­ties — in the com­mer­cial sec­tor, in the pub­lic sec­tor, in the mil­i­tary sector. 

“So the Depart­ment of Defense rec­og­nized this,” he con­tin­ued, “and as the Depart­ment of Defense does, they said we need to have a capa­bil­i­ty organ­ic to our Depart­ment of Defense so that we could car­ry out any­thing our gov­ern­ment might ask us to do in the defense of our networks.” 

The gen­er­al said the Air Force looked at its core capa­bil­i­ties — relat­ed to speed, access and dis­tance –- and deter­mined how to best meet the Defense Department’s require­ment to defeat threats from cyber­space. That starts with teach­ing new offi­cers and enlist­ed air­men how to fight on the dig­i­tal bat­tle­field, Basla said. 

The Air Force is rec­on­cil­ing that need with the require­ments of the job. Basla said 100 per­cent of the service’s orig­i­nal cyber­space offi­cers had to have tech­ni­cal degrees before being admit­ted to the cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pro­gram. Now, only about 80 per­cent need them. 

“We want­ed to have tech, math, sci­ence, and engi­neer­ing degrees, but we were advised that there are some folks that could come from the social sci­ences that could con­tribute — you know, some­thing about look­ing at the prob­lem a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly,” he said. “So we’ve allowed for some exceptions.” 

Inter­est in the field has increased gen­er­al­ly, he said, because the young peo­ple enlist­ing and enrolling at the Air Force Acad­e­my have grown up with com­put­ers, at least in their schools. 

“There’s a great deal of inter­est, I will tell you, and that’s the encour­ag­ing thing,” he said. Poten­tial cyber air­men “want to under­stand what their respon­si­bil­i­ties will be, and how they can get involved,” he added. “And so I’m encour­aged about that.” 

Part of his encour­age­ment is relat­ed to the preva­lence of com­put­ing –- though most recruits come to the Air Force with work­ing knowl­edge of com­put­er sys­tems, many don’t under­stand the risks asso­ci­at­ed, such as phish­ing scams and virus attacks. Basic train­ing at Lack­land Air Force Base in Texas now includes two sec­tions on being a good “cyber wing­man” and tak­ing care of the net­work, and the Air Force Acad­e­my now offers a cyber­se­cu­ri­ty major. 

“It’s hands-on lab work. It’s ‘red ver­sus blue forces’ exer­cis­es. It is instruc­tion. It is class­room work,” he said. 

The increased capa­bil­i­ties, though, come with an increased demand for peo­ple. The Air Force plans to bring in 220 peo­ple under a new Air Force spe­cial­ty code, and Air Force schools will grad­u­ate anoth­er 50 cyber spe­cial­ists yearly. 

“As I talk to the folks in the field and we get feed­back from the com­bat­ant com­mands that are now start­ing to under­stand that cyber­space brings anoth­er aspect of warfight­ing capa­bil­i­ty to the fight, some of the things that we are hear­ing are that we want more of these,” he said. 

Inte­grat­ing the new spe­cial­ty — a con­sol­i­da­tion of 11 oth­er spe­cial­ties includ­ing air­field sys­tems main­tain­ers, net­work oper­a­tors and infor­ma­tion man­agers — into plan­ning and exe­cu­tion cycles still a work in progress, Basla said. He point­ed out that the cyber field has two sides. 

“When you look inside of that spe­cial­ty — and cer­tain­ly that spe­cial­ty includes these ‘3‑Deltas’ — there are two pieces to that pic­ture,” he said. “The one piece is the tech­ni­cal experts who help devel­op and cre­ate and sus­tain that cyber­space domain that we’ve been talk­ing about. And then there’s anoth­er com­po­nent of that pic­ture that are the oper­a­tors that oper­ate inside that domain that was just created.” 

One group is made up of peo­ple who are facil­i­ta­tors and main­tain­ers of net­works, he explained, and the oth­er is made up of those with oper­a­tional capabilities. 

He said today’s prob­lems regard­ing net­work oper­a­tions and secu­ri­ty are dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from those of the past, and that cre­ates the need for both oper­a­tors and facilitators.

In the past, a blink­ing light meant a net­work inter­rup­tion need­ed fix­ing. Now, that blink­ing light could sig­ni­fy an attack, rather than the need for a rou­tine repair. 

“Today, the oper­a­tor must say first, ‘Is there some adver­sary that is get­ting into my net­works that is try­ing to inter­rupt my mis­sion assur­ance capa­bil­i­ties?’ So that’s the dif­fer­ence, and we need both,” he said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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