By Lt. Col. Brent Snyder, 31st Communications Squadron
/ Published September 24, 2009
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- "Kinder weapons represent a derivative of the new concept of weapons ...Whether it involves electromagnetic energy weapons for hard destruction or soft-strikes by computer logic bombs, network viruses, or media weapons, all are focused on paralyzing and undermining, not personnel casualties." - Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, authors of the "Unrestricted Warfare"
Not long ago, nor far away from Aviano Air Base, a 31st Communications Squadron Airman found himself deep in the trenches, and on the front line of cyber-space combat.
No, he was not filling an Army tasking in Afghanistan, nor was he doing convoy duty in Iraq. He was "deployed" to a soon not to be training exercise. His enemy was unseen and unheard, but just as dangerous and just as real as insurgent fighters in the aforementioned countries. At that moment, he had his MCU-2 strapped to his leg, an M-4 carbine and body armor, but they held fast leaned up against the wall. Instead, a myriad of software and hardware designed to discover and eradicate potentially devastating computer viruses and other malicious activity were his kinder weapons of choice.
The Airman understands the dangers of information warfare (it is his directive). We are all "Comm Ready and Wired for War", but unfortunately a few of his Wingmen were not.
That day someone decided to use a common USB flash drive on a Department of Defense workstation. Perhaps unknowingly, perhaps believing that the device was "clean," or perhaps believing that the job at hand was more important than established guidelines, the individual who inserted the small flash drive instantly infected the DoD network with a potentially devastating virus. The immediate result -- a loss of more than 100 man-hours, and that is a conservative estimate! The long-term result -- we really cannot say.
Was this a coordinated, targeted, deliberate attack against our information systems? Probably not, but the truth is we do not know. Whether designed by an individual who wishes to harm our society, or a bored teen in his seven megabyte download ADSL linked basement, the results of a cyber-attack are equally devastating.
The past 20 years of information technology has dramatically changed our lives, even our vocabulary. Information is quickly sorted, stored, analyzed and utilized. Most of these changes have been for the better, but they have also created significant vulnerabilities. Colonels Qiao and Wang of the People's Republic of China know it, and by extension,
anyone who has read their book knows it--even our "unsophisticated" enemies like the Taliban and Al Qaida know it.
When I came in 18 years ago, computers were a bit of a novelty. Very few military members even had access to them, and even fewer used them for much more than a replacement power-hungry typewriter. Fast forward to today where every Airman has a network account and almost all of our government business is, in one way or another, transacted on information systems. Secure and non-secure voice and data is now transferred around the globe photonically in milliseconds. Additionally, computers are used to control our infrastructure such as water systems, traffic systems and
power grids. Needless to say, the novelty is gone. Today, we depend on technology, in particular our computer systems.
Like it or not, communications systems have become a vital portion of our National Defense. Just like our other weapons systems we must protect our networks. Like an F-16, we need to put our servers in the hangar as well for maintenance. Unfortunately, this particular weapons system is relatively new and the means of securing it are fluid and outside of our norm. Be that as it may, we must secure them as we would our gates, or flight line, our armories, our weapons storages and our aircraft. We would not cross the
red line on the flight line (without authorization) just to make our job easier; we must not cross the virtual red line (without authorization) either.
By now each of us has heard of the DoD ban on USB flash devices, for many of us this represents an inconvenience, and an obstacle to getting work done. However, it is important to realize what is at stake. Each of us has an absolute obligation to defend this weapons system. Like it or not, when you are issued your username and password, you have joined the front lines of defending our networks against all enemies, foreign or domestic and no matter where you might be, it's critical to be ready.