The Pentagon is one of the most secure facilities in the world and yet it defends its networks against more than 5,000 cyber-attacks on any given day. To combat this growing threat, Airmen train to defend computer networks against invisible ordnance in the operational domain of cyberspace.
The 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., is Air Force Force’s premier information operations and formal cyber training unit. Operated by Air Force Space Command’s 24th Air Force, the squadron conducts qualification and advanced training to provide mission-ready information operations and cyber warfare operators for all Air Force major commands.
“The demand for trained cyber operators has significantly increased over the past three to five years,” said Maj. Mark Dieujuste, 39th IOS director of operations. “We don’t see this going away. One of the classes we teach is the information operations integration course, which is the initial qualification training for Airmen assigned to operational-level information operations team billets in air operations centers.”
Housed in a state-of-the-art 22,000-square-foot facility, the squadron schoolhouse features several classrooms, solid vaulted doors, and instructors with experience on what it takes to defend the cyber domain.
“Cyber is the new wild, wild west,” said Gen. John E. Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander. “It took us about 30 years to figure out how to make space a real warfighting domain and operate in it accordingly. We do not have that time in cyber, because cyber is under threat every day. The big difference between space and cyber is the cost of access into space is significant.
“But the cost for cyberspace is a laptop and an internet connection, and then you can be a threat to anybody,” he added. “That is the challenge that we have there. So we have to monitor our cyberspace domain, we have to monitor everything that goes through cyberspace. We have to be able to defend that, and if somebody does something bad to us, we have to be able to do something about it.”
All 39th IOS classrooms are equipped with cutting edge communication and computer systems, to include secure video teleconferencing and fiber optic infrastructures. This allows real-time war gaming and improved instruction at multiple security levels.
“In order to create a worthwhile training environment in the cyber area, it’s not just about learning how to push a button, and making your computer do things while being able to understand the tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Scott Runyan, 39th IOS technical advisor. “It’s not enough to just understand it, but you have to practice it. For us to allow our students to fly, we have to create the cyber domain.
“We have replicated what an average base computer system might look like, what the average Air Force gateway may look like, and we then create maneuver space,” he added. “We then create opportunities for our folks to control the bad guys. We show them, ‘this is what is happening in the network, this is what you should see, but this is what’s happening; now find them, fix them, track them, target, engage, assess, and close them out.'”
As students advance in the class they are not given a scenario, but told ‘find the issue and fix it.’
“Our red team is in the back of the class … and they are trying to take down service in real time,” said Runyan. “They are looking at wired, wireless, satellite communications; things like this all enter into the mix of how we are training our folks.”
Red team members are instructors pretending to be adversaries and are trying to hack into the computer system.
At the 30th annual Air Force Association Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III., listed space and cyber space with the importance of having the F-35 fielded and ready.
“Cyber is definitely a force multiplier,” said Runyan. “It’s definitely a way of building efficiencies within a dwindling budget environment. Cyber is one way to do that as we are automating different aspects of what we do, and the automation has created and bred a certain dependency on it.”
Source:: Air Force Space Command