The Air Force relies heavily on computer and software systems, therefore it’s crucial the systems stay secure.
Various 56th Communications Squadron cyber security technicians at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., work together to keep the network safe, which enables jets to fly and missions to be accomplished.
Cyber security technicians work to prevent, detect and repel cyberattacks. They are split into three different sections; computer security (COMPUSEC), communications security (COMSEC) and emissions security (TEMPEST). Each section works together and plays a different role in maintaining the safety of the network and its users at Luke. They follow guidance and regulations and train their users on how to follow them.
COMPUSEC deals with Universal Serial Bus (USB) and network-related violations. They determine what can and cannot go onto the network. For example, if an unauthorized device is plugged into a USB port, actions are taken to resolve the issue.
“We contact the user to see their side of the story and scan the device the USB was plugged into for any malicious content,” said Airman 1st Class Stephen Lowe, 56th CS cyber security technician. “We then confiscate the computer, block their account and type up a memorandum for record that has to be signed by their commander and our commander. They then have to recomplete cyber awareness training.”
Safe communication between network users is essential in order to complete the mission. COMSEC helps keep the communication safe through encryption, said Lowe.
COMSEC provides communications security for 29 squadrons on base. A large piece of their job includes encryption of jets and the network. The communication between the jets and the pilots are encrypted so they can’t be compromised, explained Lowe.
Without the jets having encryption material, they wouldn’t be able to fly securely.
“I think our job is imperative because cyber security is important to accomplishing the mission,” said Senior Airman Spencer Williams, 56th CS cyber security technician. “The network is important. It’s how everybody on base communicates. The jets can’t fly without it.”
TEMPEST performs the same actions as COMPUSEC and COMSEC, as well as performing annual inspections of areas that have classified and unclassified equipment.
TEMPEST diagrams areas that process classified information and provide customers with specific countermeasures to protect that information from being stolen. The countermeasures include certain spacing measurements of classified and unclassified equipment.
“TEMPEST is a preventative type of action,” said Airman 1st Class Savannah Molimowski, 56th CS cyber security technician. “There are measures in place to fix USB violations, and the users at Luke are trained to know whether it’s secret or not.”
The cyber security technicians also dispose of classified and unclassified material, including hard drives, solid-state drives and film, through a degausser.
“There’s two methods it goes through,” said Williams. “The degaussing method uses a magnet and wipes whatever type of removal storage the item has. After that, we put it through the puncher which crushes a hole in it and renders it useless, turning it into scrap.”
The Airmen in COMPUSEC, COMSEC and TEMPEST perform the same actions to keep the network, communication through pilots, and classified and unclassified equipment safe, explained Williams.
Protecting the network is not only the mission of cyber security technicians, it’s also the mission of the user. Ultimately, the Air Force’s mission is to fly, flight and win in air, space and cyberspace.