Signal soldiers keep Army networks safe
November 22, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - In the wake of the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden security scandals, as well as White House accusations of Chinese hackers attacking private and public systems in the U.S., cybersecurity is more important than ever.
This makes signal soldiers, like those found throughout 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, an integral part of protecting the Army communication network, which they do by using new technology and by extensively training individual users.
"Because an effective Army communicates what we're doing all of the time, and because most of our communications are done digitally over voice-over-internet-protocol phones or through computers, making sure that we have a secure network is our best defense," said Capt. Andrew Nortrup, a Kennebunk, Maine, native and commander of 334th Sig. Company.
The importance of a secure network cannot be understated, Nortrup said. If enemy forces had access to the brigade's networks, they would be better able to cause damage to U.S. forces.
"That's what we're trying to prevent through cybersecurity, prevent the enemy from getting in and knowing what we're doing," said Nortrup. "[We are] always paying attention to the network."
Nortrup said that his Soldiers continuously monitor their networks to ensure that enemies are not trying to attack or infiltrate them.
Their computer systems also sends up reports autonomously if they are attacked, similar to what a soldier would do on the battlefield.
"When a soldier gets in contact, he sends a report, 'I'm in contact.' When one of our computers, routers, or servers encounter something, it says 'hey, I just did this; this just happened to me.' [We] monitor all that information to make sure we're not seeing anything suspicious," Nortrup said.
The Army instructs its cyber warriors, like those with 3-2 SBCT, that the best defense is having many defenses.
"[It's] what is called defense-in-depth ... so in the best-case scenario, if one system is compromised there is another system that is checking that one. It's a series of checks and balances," Nortrup said. "So our piece of that ... is to make sure all the pieces are running and all the different security checks are all operational so that compromising a single piece doesn't compromise the whole network."
Signal soldiers within the brigade also have the skills and expertise to respond to an attack on the network and isolate possible damage.
Although securing the network from outside threats is one of their key roles, 3-2 SBCT signal soldiers also work hard to ensure that other soldiers within their organization are trained to operate safely on the internet.
Capt. Alexander Bailey, a Goldsboro, N.C., native and signal officer with 3-2 SBCT, said that his Soldiers provide training on the dangers that exist in cyberspace. They also teach the importance of securing personal information online and how to safely manage social media privacy settings.
"That's really the main vulnerability of our network [which is why we are] making sure our users are educated on how to operate on the network securely," Bailey said. "The user element, I would say, is the most important element of our cyber protection because our networks are pretty hardened. The last place for our enemies to exploit our weaknesses is with our user base."
Secretary of the Army John McHugh agreed in a memo dated Feb. 1, 2013, mandating Information Awareness/Cybersecurity awareness training.
"Beyond required security training, we need you to make certain that all of your soldiers, civilians, and contractors understand the threat they pose to operational security by not complying with IA/Cybersecurity policies and practices," McHugh said.
Those practices can also keep soldiers and their families safe at home.
"The best thing those family members at home, or anybody, can do for cybersecurity is just be skeptical of what you're looking at," Nortrup said.
Nortrup explained that many cybersecurity attacks either use phishing or spoofing, which can involve sending emails that look like they are from legitimate businesses or organizations. When individuals click on links or open attachments in those emails, they are exposed to viruses or malicious software that puts their computer system at risk.
Another step soldiers and their families can take to protect themselves is having antivirus software installed and up-to-date.
"Make sure that your computer is updated and make sure that you're using the most recent antivirus definitions," Bailey said. "That's free from the Army."
Soldiers can download antivirus software at no cost from www.us.army.mil
To find out more on how to keep your home and work networks safe, visit www.arcyber.army.mil