Computer Security – crucial in a digital age

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Staker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Love them or hate them, computers have quickly become a critical part of everyday life.

From intentionally downloading and leaking documents to the accidental loss of equipment containing classified data, cyberattacks can come in many forms, often resulting in identity theft or communication outages.

"Most of our important operational information resides on our network," said Lt. Col. Kevin James, 28th Communications Squadron commander. "A key objective of computer security is protecting that information from our enemies."

Helping users maintain computer security at Ellsworth is just one aspect of the mission of the 28th CS, but it is one taken very seriously.

"We need to defend against cyberattacks - our mission is nearly impossible to execute without computers," James said. "If we enter a major conflict with a highly sophisticated enemy, it will be too late to start practicing computer security."

Master Sgt. Charley Carroll, 28th CS wing cybersecurity office NCO in charge, added that there are many types of cyberattacks, with socially engineered trojans and phishing attacks being some of the most common.

"A socially engineered trojan is the most popular attack method," Carroll said. "The attacker sends an e-mail to the potential victim and convinces the user to open an attachment, which then infects the user's computer. An example would be a user receiving an email from [the United Postal Service] regarding a package that was unable to be delivered, and in order for them to claim the package, they need to open the attachment and fill out the information, resulting in the user's computer being infected."

In January, two significant cyberattacks occurred against the DOD - the hacking of Twitter and YouTube accounts maintained by the U.S. Central Command in an attempt to bring discredit on the Department of Defense and the United States, as well as gain public attention in order to further their cause. 

During the vandalism of these social media platforms, hackers claiming to be aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant posted tweets with information obtained from the accounts, along with threats against military members and their families.

However, the DOD network was not compromised and no classified material was obtained by the group since the accounts were located on commercial network servers.

"Large scale cyberattacks like those on Estonia in 2007 and small scale attacks like the one which crippled Iranian nuclear centrifuges show how devastating cyber warfare can be," James added. "We must secure our networks and our computers so we can continue to execute our mission."

Even secure networks can be targeted at any time, further emphasizing the importance of computer security, personally and professionally.

"In most cases, education is the most effective weapon against the most common types of cyberattacks," Carroll said. "Users need to learn not to open attachments from unknown persons, and even be suspicious about attachments from friends or family members that are unexpected or out of character."

Carroll said the best defense is to keep computers and anti-virus software up-to-date, not give out personal information to unknown people over the phone or through e-mail, and change and use long passwords frequently.

"If users take the same precautions they are taught at work and use them at home, they will be much less likely to experience problems due to a cyberattack," he added.

Bottom line - Airmen should keep in mind that hackers and those with malicious intent are always looking for new ways to infiltrate networks to obtain personal and classified information. Remembering the above tips can help users from falling victim to cyberattacks, Carroll said.

"It's not paranoia, they really are out to get us," James said. "Don't live in fear, but be aware bad people are using computers to do bad things. Do your best to follow all those rules we give you. Our goal is to help you use good computer security practices to protect your family and protect our mission."