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173rd Fighter Wing highlights the importance of Cyber Security

Staff Sgt. Richard Prestia, a 19th Communications Squadron airfield systems supervisor, performs maintenance on a radio Sept. 3, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Prestia, a Boyertown, Pa. native, ensures audio and power levels are within the required limits that enable the radio to talk with aircraft at distances of approximately 300 miles.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Staff Sgt. Richard Prestia, a 19th Communications Squadron airfield systems supervisor, performs maintenance on a radio Sept. 3, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Prestia, a Boyertown, Pa. native, ensures audio and power levels are within the required limits that enable the radio to talk with aircraft at distances of approximately 300 miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- A concerning reality of society’s dependence on technology is that information such as bank account passwords and credit card numbers are vulnerable to hacking—no matter the precautions taken.

Government networks present a substantially bigger target for various types of hacking attacks and they are quite literally at war with what Logan Shipley, a 173rd Fighter Wing Cyber Security representative describes as both state-sponsored hackers as well as “hacktivists”, also known as hobby hackers.

“Every day something new pops up and even we get taken by surprise,” said Shipley, on why he and other Air Force cyber warriors maintain constant vigilance over the 173rd Fighter Wing network.

A recent example making headlines is detailed in an article by Bloomberg Businessweek titled The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies. The story explains that circuit boards manufactured in China had small, illicit chips added to them allowing hackers “a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines.”

The chips were added by manufacturing subcontractors in China and became part of a coordinated attack against names recognized the world over, like Apple Inc., and Amazon—says the article.   

Shipley lends perspective to the problem, saying this is a new battlespace, and one that must be addressed by individuals and entire nations.

“Cyber is not going to go away, computers, cell phones, it’s not going away and if you don’t start now you’re going to be so behind the curve when you do,” said Shipley referencing how cyber-aware a person is.

The proliferation of technology presents cyber security professionals with thorny issues; one of the main ones is that if an infection enters the body on the smallest finger on a person’s hand, it still infects the entire organism. The “body” of the Air Force network we operate on spans the globe and has millions of connections to other networks—each connection is vulnerable to attack and infection. Hence the need for vigilance at the individual level.

“Those basic techniques that people use to take advantage of you—your kids—your money, those are only going to get more advanced,” says Shipley. “So if you can learn the basics behind it, that’s when you can empower yourself to take back control of your devices, your money and your network.”

Of course, like any war—and make no mistake this is a war—there are success and failures.  While the failures are often publicized, it’s inherent in the business that the successes and wins are often kept quiet. A recent Air Force Magazine article explains why. What they do, though, must necessarily remain secret, so as not to tip off the enemy about what the cyber force knows, what it can do, and what it is doing.”

Shipley advises Airmen on how to protect themselves and by extension, help protect the networks they use every day—the base network, the network they conduct banking on, and even social media platforms. In the current environment the vaccine of educated users is becoming a necessity.

His strongest recommendation is that people use encryption for every device connected to the internet, something easily available through an app store for mobile devices.

Finally, for those who want to learn how to protect themselves, Shipley recommends, “just Google it, you will learn everything you need to know.”

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