April 12th, 2008 06:10 EST
96th Comm Group and Cyber Attacks
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Imagine a world where terrorism isn't waged only with hijacked planes, suicide bombing or improvised explosive devices. Imagine terrorist acts with the capability to target anyone, or everyone, with devastating consequences - the only unknown factor is time.
The 96th Communications Group here hopes to prevent such an attack or infiltration of its networks from occurring by establishing anti-intrusion systems and firewalls to deter potential threats to security.
"Protecting our homeland here is important if we want to prevent an electronic 'Pearl Harbor' that could possibly melt down the stock exchange or take all the money out of the banks. An event like that could be catastrophic to the local community," said Col. Harry Blanke, 96th Communications Group commander.
The Air Force is attacked ten thousand times per day in cyberspace. More than 80 percent of all E-mails received by the Air Force are spam. Terabytes (one trillion bytes) of information have been exfiltrated illegally from Air Force networks.
"The dominance of air and space capability has existed for less than 20 years and will only persist into coming decades if it is carefully nurtured," said Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff. "In addition both may be lost if we don't improve our ability to fight in cyberspace."
Cyberspace is a domain characterized by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to store, modify and exchange data via networked systems and associated physical infrastructures.
The importance of cyberspace in relation to maintaining air and space dominance lies with its integration into military aircraft and satellites. This integration not only enables Airmen to fight more precisely and efficiently, but to also support the ability to defend the country and its assets. This is accomplished by connecting all elements of defense to create a network of communication and information.
"War is not just a bunch of airplanes in the air that are shooting guns and dropping bombs, but it is also tied closely together with our ability to communicate with them and provide capabilities such as precision strike using global positioning satellites to guide a bomb to a target with 100-percent accuracy," said Colonel Blanke.
There are three contingencies to incorporate cyberspace into the defense of air and space.
First, a domain must be established, meaning there must be cables in the ground and phones installed with a large number of people invested to create and maintain the information systems and communication networks.
Second, is controlling the domain, or having people who actively defend the network or the electromagnetic spectrum by operating firewalls and intrusion systems, keeping the enemy out of the network.
Lastly, is operating in the domain. Airman operate in the domain every day, whether it's calling on the radio to their wingman, getting attack coordinates from a ground controller, or using data links to figure out how to vector certain targets.
Fighting in cyberspace presents another problem, the enemy could be anyone, anywhere on the planet. Tracking down an adversary who can conceal his/her identity and location is a task that cannot be easily overcome.
"Discerning whether something on a network is truly malicious or not is sort of hard to do ... being able to shut down malicious acts with precision without disrupting other networks is something the communication group here is currently working to improve," said Colonel Blanke.
The Air Force is the world's most powerful air and space force. With missiles that can change targets midair and a network of communication that puts us on the cutting edge of technology, it is easy to become complacent with the belief that electronic "Pearl Harbor" is impossible.
"Department of Defense senior leaders fear we have peer competitors in cyberspace, which is why in December 2005, the Air Force mission was updated," said Colonel Blanke.
"The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its interests - to fly and fight in air, space and cyberspace," wrote the Gen. Moseley and the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynn, in a joint letter to Airmen.
"If we cannot dominate in cyberspace, we put space and air at risk ... doing so would mean putting our Airmen at risk who are not only controlling our satellites, but also flying our aircraft, and we cannot let that happen," said Colonel Blanke.
The 96th Communictations Group here will continue ensure protection of its databases and local networks from potential threats on security as well as enhance war fighting capabilities.
by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings
96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs