Cracking the code on Cybersecurity Awareness: 173rd Communications Flight keeps Kingsley connected and secured

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Emily Copeland
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The month of October brings a new fiscal year, and a new theme for Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Cybersecurity—Every Airman, Every Guardian – Mission Possible! 

Cybersecurity impacts every aspect of our battlefield, whether that be at home or abroad. The U.S. Air Force places an emphasis on protecting the military’s cyberspace, as well as seizing the opportunity to modernize for our digital future.

Kingsley Field’s 173rd Communications Flight is taking the initiative to prevent network weaknesses and vulnerabilities to lower the attack surface of inside and outside network threats. Due to these threats, it’s important to always stay up to date on the best cyber defenses and ensure management of the systems the wing uses daily; this means performing necessary upgrades such as firewall replacement and patching.

“Network security is no different than physical security when it comes to importance,” said Staff Sgt. Dylan Riggs, 173rd CF cyber systems operations. “It is vital in protecting data. If adversaries can find vulnerabilities on a network, then they can gain access to data and use it to potentially stop operations, shut down productions, etc.”

The base communications flight is responsible for many equipment systems such as computers, switches, servers, phones, printers and radios. In turn, they must perform patching operations while maintaining multiple systems. On top of that, they must also enforce policies such as Security Technical Implementation Guides, provide network monitoring, maintain network availability, support and educate users, and control information technology assets.

Consider the 173rd CF as the cyber security forces that are focused on protecting the integrity and confidentiality of military systems by preventing digital attacks.

Patching is one of the many cyber defenses that the team uses to resolve functionality issues, improve security, and optimize performance of computer systems around the base. To effectively deploy patch management, the 173rd CF must create a script or code that acts as a set of instructions for a computer. The scripts are then processed via a program known as PowerShell which distributes the required updates and patches throughout the Kingsley Field network on a mass scale.

“Think of a network or computer security as an ever-changing domain,” said Riggs. “You have a hole in your defenses at ‘XYZ’ that you patch; however, as soon as you patch that hole, a new one can pop up elsewhere. I like to imagine these things as a big, open spot in the base perimeter fence that gets fixed, then a new spot opens on the perimeter soon after. This is and will always be a never-ending battle.”

To help aid in the endless threats, the 173rd CF infrastructure team replaced the old base firewall system with a new one on October 15, 2023. This firewall is treated as a two-way filter or barrier that sits on the edge of a network and can be programmed to only let certain network traffic in and block malicious external traffic such as viruses or hackers.

“This process entails a three-part operation of physical installation, powering up the hardware and coordination with the 299th Network Operations Security Squadron to configure and cutover services,” said Riggs. “Before the cutover day, we have a Technical Interface Meeting and gameplan how the cutover will occur. Then, we work with NGB and the 299th NOSC to get the network swapped over to the new firewall device.”

As equipment becomes older and unsupported, hardware issues can occur, and software releases do not happen. This can leave the system vulnerable and unpatched. The firewall is replaced when the device reaches its end of life and is no longer operating on the needs of the base, or when the device is no longer supported by a Department of Defense contract. Newer equipment will allow for the future growth and expansion upon technical features and capabilities for Kingsley Field computer systems.

“Our work may seem dull from an outside perspective, but there is a lot of behind the scenes work that allows the base to run smoothly and safely from a cybersecurity perspective,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Goheen, 173rd CF cyber network systems operations. “We have a great team of innovators and people who are willing to share knowledge and skills.” 

If you are interested in what you can do at home to secure your own network security here are a few helpful tips and resources:

  • Use strong passwords and turn on multi-factor authorization
  • Recognize and report phishing scams
  • Update software
  • Change the default password on your home internet router
  • Do not exchange home and work content
  • Take precautions when using social media

For more information on October’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month, please see the link below: