Members of 24th Air Force are refurbishing an old e-mail tool to help Air Force users reduce breaches of personally identifiable information.
The Digital Signature Enforcement Tool, which currently prompts users to provide a digital signature when an e-mail contains an active hyperlink or attachment, is being reconfigured to scan e-mails and attachments for PII. DSET was first introduced to Outlook in 2009 by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
“DSET was originally designed to mitigate risk from socially-engineered e-mail or phishing attacks. Now, it provides some protection of messages transmitting PII,” said Alonzo Pugh, cyber business system analyst for 24th AF. “The tool provides awareness for users of risks before the e-mail leaves the workstation, giving users the chance to correct the identified risk.”
PII includes items such as an individual’s social security number, driver’s license information and financial information. Breaches occur when this information is inadvertently released. User awareness is one of the biggest issues associated with PII breaches, according to Pugh.
“When users release PII that is not protected, that puts information at risk for being intercepted by adversaries. These adversaries can then use that information to target users to gain access the network,” said Pugh. “Air Force network users must do their due diligence when sending an e-mail containing PII. They need to make sure the information is protected.”
DSET capability should encourage users to be more involved in the process of preventing PII breaches, said Pugh. “The user is afforded the ability to take action in checking their e-mails to make sure they are not inadvertently releasing PII, and given the opportunity to protect it. DSET makes users more aware that they need to double check their e-mails and ensure that they are in accordance with policy; the responsibility for preventing breaches ultimately falls on them.”
The tool itself is straightforward to use, said Pugh, and will give users simple prompts to follow in sending e-mails. In addition, there is a function allowing information which was falsely identified as PII to still be sent.
“While our software solution will support the Air Force’s efforts to reduce PII breaches, it is still important for personnel to be aware and vigilant with their handling of documents containing PII,” said Col. Eric Oliver, 24th AF director of cyber systems.
The tool’s new usage is still in its initial stage, focusing on social security numbers. Developers hope that DSET will ultimately be able to scan for a variety of PII to prevent future breaches.
“It is imperative that we protect one another as we move each Air Force mission forward,” said Maj. Gen. J. Kevin McLaughlin, 24th Air Force commander. “Avoiding the release of PII is part of being a good wingman, but it is also part of protecting the network and accomplishing the Air Force mission.”
In preparation for the release of DSET, you can access training for the new tool using the following link https://afpki.lackland.af.mil/assets/files/OE-15-40-064_QRG-DSET_v0001.pdf.
Additional training on how to encrypt Microsoft Office documents can be accessed at www.24af.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-140701-064.pdf.
Users have multiple tools at their disposal to protect PII if encrypting e-mail is not feasible, but if electronic transmission of sensitive PII is operationally required, users can leverage approved Department of Defense file exchange services at https://safe.amrdec.army.mil/safe/.