Air Force launches yearlong info assurance campaign

Air Force launches yearlong info assurance campaign


Air Force brass want the service's 500,000 active-duty officers, National Guard members and reservists to think about network security as readily as combat training.

Why? If they do, hackers and other cyberattackers might look for more vulnerable systems to wreak havoc upon.

At least that's the aim of the Air Force's yearlong information assurance campaign, which began in January and seeks to remind personnel that keeping service networks secure depends on every user. Lt. Col. Susan T. Pardo, chief of the service's Information Assurance Division, spearheads the effort.

'This campaign is important to our Air Force because the next Pearl Harbor is likely to begin with a massive assault on our information systems,' said Col. William T. Lord, director of communications and information for the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Steady dose

Not if Pardo can help it. She organized the campaign 'Global Vigilance, Reach and Power: Information Assurance in the 21st Century.'

'If we can ensure our people know when they are being exploited and what to do about it, we are miles ahead of the game.'

'Lt. Col. Susan T. Pardo
The service has set monthly meetings at bases across the country as a focal point of the effort. Before this year, the Air Force set aside a month each year to promote security awareness, but officials feared that a month wasn't enough time to keep users focused and informed about the increasing threats.

'One of the best ways to keep the bad guys from doing harm ' is to inform our users, who are all potential victims, about the threat and what they can do to keep their data safe and their computers operational,' Pardo said.

'Many of the events we see ' are probes'hackers looking up and down a row of cars to see which one has the keys left in it,' she said. 'In 2000, we had over 7,500 probes we deemed significant enough to block the offender's access to Air Force networks.'

Although hackers failed to penetrate any mission-critical systems last year, most Air Force bases were hit hard in 1999 by the Melissa virus and some suffered last year when the ILOVEYOU virus surfaced, Pardo said.

The effects of more recent viruses pale in comparison, thanks to user awareness, she said. Most users have 'learned to not open suspicious attachments and to report their concerns quickly,' Pardo said. 'If we can ensure our people know when they are being exploited and what to do about it, we are miles ahead of the game.'

The Air Force isn't the only Defense Department agency making information assurance a priority. DOD's chief information officer, Arthur Money, who will depart his post later this month, said the department is deploying more intrusion detection devices and firewalls to tackle cyberattacks. DOD had to handle 28,000 attacks last year at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion.

One of the programs DOD is working on is creation of a public-key infrastructure, which it will roll out over the next five years. PKI use 'will strengthen the overall defensive posture of the networks,' Money said.

Mission message

Information assurance is about enabling 'warfighters to leverage the power of information to conduct missions successfully,' said Lt. Gen. John L. Woodward Jr., the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for information and communications.

'We must continually remind everyone to guard, protect, defend and observe networks and information content,' he said. 'Networks are definitely maturing and'because they are part of the fight'must also be considered weapons systems.'

No one understands this better than Pardo, a career officer who has spent the last several years protecting Air Force networks, which requires maintaining a delicate balance between providing information to the public and meeting security precautions.

'It is a matter of risk management, not risk avoidance,' Pardo said. 'The most important information we have, we protect very well, and that means strictly limiting access.'


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