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CHIPS Articles: Security information technology requires constant diligence

Security information technology requires constant diligence
By Kari Hawkins, U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command - October 24, 2017
Be suspicious. Be aware. Use different passwords.

Those are common words of advice for anyone who uses their computer online.

But, in the Aviation and Missile Command’s Chief Information Office/G6, they are also words to work and live by as employees focus on ensuring the security of information technology that connects AMCOM both internally and externally.

“We all need to be aware of technology and what can happen if we don’t protect our information,” said Wes Slone, the information systems security manager for AMCOM’s production environment.

“In cyber, there are three factors that determine the level of protection required for a particular system. Those factors are known as the CIA triad. CIA stands for confidentiality, integrity and availability. The CIA triad helps to guide policies for information security.”

As the Army recognizes October as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Slone said it is a good time for AMCOM employees to be more cognizant of security issues related to information technology both at work and at home.

“The AMCOM Production Environment includes about 80 computer servers and multiple applications that headquarters uses to support the warfighter,” Slone said. “We produce government off-the-shelf software and we use commercial off-the-shelf software to provide that support.”

AMCOM information technology employees focus on ensuring those systems are protected against cyberattacks or other kinds of external interference. In the cybersecurity arena, there is offensive and defensive security, Slone said, and AMCOM’s information technology employees are most concerned with defensive security.

“The Army’s four domains of warfare – air, land, sea and space – are now expanded to include the fifth domain of cyber. Our dependence on the Internet and the digital world have made cyber an underpinning of society. With that, comes opportunities to attack the Army and the nation through its computer networks, which created requirements to secure the cyberspace against those attacks.”

As the world’s operating systems, industrial systems and communications become more and more dependent on computer systems that are connected to each other, the military’s need to maintain its cyber dominance grows.

“Our mission is to do our part to provide cyber capabilities and security so that the U.S. military achieves the dominance in cyberspace it maintains in the other four domains,” Slone said. “The U.S. military’s goal is to dominate all five domains of warfare and cyber is an integral part of that, both as a domain in itself and as an underlying part of the other four domains.”

Whenever changes to Department of Defense or Department of the Army regulations occur, AMCOM IT managers must ensure that cyber assets are compliant or have a plan to achieve compliance in the near term.

“Interconnected network systems must be maintained and tested to protect against new threats,” Slone said. “Networks allow our computers to talk to each other. But whenever computers talk to each other, they also become vulnerable to cyberattacks. When there are disruptions in cyberspace, disruptions can occur in the Army mission in the real world. Computers share information. If not properly protected, that information can contain malware of various types that can adversely affect the system’s intended performance or the information’s intended purpose.”

Whenever new software is developed, it must be tested in AMCOM’s Cyber Security Vulnerability Assessment Lab to make sure it can’t be penetrated by a cyberattack before it can be used on AMCOM networks. Industry tools are used to attack the software. If vulnerabilities are discovered, they are repaired and the software is retested until all vulnerabilities are resolved.

“It is essential that we defend against vulnerabilities because computer systems affect the real world,” Slone said. “If hacked or attacked, information in computer systems can be sabotaged so that it negatively affects industrial processes. A computer system can be compromised so that is doesn’t provide the support needed by the warfighter.”

Besides testing software, AMCOM IT employees also work to minimize a software system’s footprint as a way to prevent cyberattack. “When you minimize the amount of cyber interaction necessary to use a software system, you lessen its vulnerability,” Slone said.

In addition, AMCOM IT employees build and update security systems to protect industrial machinery at its depots.

The best defense against a cyberattack on a user’s computer are employees who maintain an awareness and a suspicion of activities.

“We have annual cyber awareness training because insider threats are the biggest issue we contend with,” Slone said. “Most malicious emails or software applications are action-based. You have to click on something to activate them. So before you open an email from someone you don’t know or visit a new website, check out the addresses and look for signs that it may be suspicious.

“There has to be a balance with cybersecurity. You can’t overregulate so that employees can’t use cyber resources and applications. At the same time, if we don’t take security actions, then our systems may be vulnerable to attack. The Department of the Army has invested significant resources in technology and manpower to secure the Army’s cyberspace.”

Slone has worked in information technology and cybersecurity at Redstone Arsenal since 2008. He has worked in support of the Army Materiel Command, Missile Defense Agency, NETCOM (Network Enterprise Technology Command at Redstone) and AMCOM in a cybersecurity capacity.

“There are always new vulnerabilities and new challenges in this field,” Slone said. “I think we do a lot of good in protecting the critical infrastructures so that our employees worldwide have the capabilities they need to support the warfighters.”

AMCOM employees with questions about cybersecurity should contact the Army Enterprise Service Desk at 866-335-2769.

Wes Slone’s work as the Aviation and Missile Command’s Information Systems Security manager focuses on defending against cyberattacks and other external information technology interferences that could threaten AMCOM’s support to warfighters. Photo by Kari Hawkins.
Wes Slone’s work as the Aviation and Missile Command’s Information Systems Security manager focuses on defending against cyberattacks and other external information technology interferences that could threaten AMCOM’s support to warfighters. Photo by Kari Hawkins.
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