Digital battlefield: 423rd CS shines during CCRI

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
The 423rd Communications Squadron, located at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, earned the top slot among U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa bases during the fiscal year 2014 Command Cyber Readiness Inspection. The inspection evaluated the potential threat to the communications network at RAF Alconbury, and then gauged how well the squadron could guard against a cyber-attack. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)
"Every second of every single day the U.S. military could be under attack."

U.S. Air Force Maj. John Riester, 423rd Communications Squadron commander, leaned back in his chair - allowing the gravity of his words to sink in. He was right. At any given moment a government, organization, terrorist group or hacker could launch a digital offensive against the United States.

This digital onslaught is called a "cyber-attack," and it is how adversaries wage war across computer information systems, infrastructures, digital networks and even personal computing devices. According to the U.S. Cyber Command, cyberspace is a battlefield for the 21st Century. Recently, Airmen from the 423rd CS scored a major victory in that battle when their network defense programs were tested and evaluated as the best among U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa bases, and third in the Air Force, during the fiscal year 2014 Command Cyber Readiness Inspection. 

"The inspection took a look at the threat to our network and gauged how well guarded we are against the possibility of an attack," Riester said. "Inspectors combed through our program line-by-line, ensuring we met the intent."

According to Riester, a large part of the inspection intent was to ensure the network at RAF Alconbury was monitored and protected at all times. This involved looking at both digital and physical aspects of the communication infrastructure.

"The inspectors looked for unsecured network devices, switch ports and wall jacks that could potentially allow an adversary to access the Air Force network," said Staff Sgt. Erik Reese, 423rd CS cyber transport supervisor. "An unauthorized user with the right skillset could potentially use a device to plug into an unsecured port and collect sensitive information. Our job is to harden the network against exploitation."

Even though hardening the network and cyber-defense is typically passive at the squadron level, Riester said the Airmen involved in this inspection went above and beyond to ensure the hundreds of criteria for each device and machine at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, were well within compliance.

"This is the most dynamic environment you can work in," Riester said. "There are both internal and external threats to our network that we guard against, because information is ultimately power. We need to leverage an adversary's vulnerabilities while simultaneously securing our own."

Through the innovative and dedicated efforts of 423rd CS Airmen, Riester said the squadron currently has the lowest vulnerability numbers in the entire Air Force. However, he also understands the nature of cyber-warfare - which means a cutting edge threat today could be obsolete tomorrow.

"Nothing will ever be perfect, because this landscape is ever-changing," he said. "However, the Airmen at the 423rd have proven their steadfast commitment to securing our digital borders. This inspection showcased a phenomenal team effort that reaches back to each and every Airman coming to work with a desire to make things better every day."