JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The widespread usage of computer networking has become one of the U.S. military's greatest advantages.

On the battlefield, computers are valuable force multipliers, greatly aiding commanders in the command and control of their forces.

Our enemies also use computers, however, and can turn our advantage into a disadvantage if Soldiers don't follow proper security procedures.

To aid in combating this threat, October has been designated National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

"Cyber security means ensuring the integrity, availability and confidentiality of information on the DoD network," said Jack Potter, information security manager for the Mission Support Element G-6 here.

Hostile nation-states can employ state-of-the-art technology to attempt to breach our cyber security methods. Any networked computer can come under attack.

"Whether it's attempting to gain access to a military network or steal your personal information, the threat is always out there," said Sgt. 1st Class James Stephenson, a Fort Worth, Texas, native, and noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the I Corps Information Assurance section.

"I can turn off a computer, lock it in a safe, and bury the safe. That's the only way to make a computer completely secure. As soon as I plug it in, put it on the network, and connect a user to it, there are vulnerabilities," Potter said.

The majority of those vulnerabilities are related to how the computer is being used, Potter said.

Hackers long ago learned that while it was possible to break into a computer system through trial and error, the easiest way to gain access was tricking legitimate users into letting them in.

"The best advice I can give the average user is to always be aware of what you're looking at. Don't visit websites you don't know, don't trust, and don't need. Always be aware that there are risks," Potter said.

Some computer attacks seek to gain access to secure networks, while others attempt to gain personal information about the computer user.

The popularity of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has brought a corresponding level of cyber security risk.

"If a unit has a Facebook page, and puts information about unit missions on that page, they have made that information available to adversaries who may be looking for it," Potter said.

Social networking also puts personal information at risk. Seemingly harmless information, such as birthdays or anniversaries, can be a risk.
Most social networking sites allow users to control the privacy settings of their information.

Users of government computers should remember that such computers are meant for official use only.

"Your government computer is not your personal computer. Your government computer is a weapons system. You wouldn't take your Stryker to the grocery store, and you wouldn't drive your Honda Accord across the battlefield. They both have the capability, but they aren't made for that. Your computer is the same way," Potter said.