ORANG 75th Anniversary - Changing Network Security Operations

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amber Powell
  • 173rd Fighter Wing
When Senior Master Sgt. Tina Wilson, plans superintendent for the 173rd Fighter Wing Communications Flight, joined the Oregon Air National Guard in 1985, network security looked a lot different than it does today.

In that short amount of time, technology has changed from one large mainframe computer, which could do the work of one server, to a room filled with multiple servers a fraction of the size.

"At the time, there was no network on base," said Wilson. "If you can picture a big rack of computers with reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, that's what data was stored on."
Wilson helped run the first underground conduit lines on base in 1992 and a few years later fiber lines were installed.

"Once the fiber was put in place, then servers were brought on base and more computers were put out into the office areas, which were connecting back to the servers," said Wilson.

With more computers readily available, security had to change as well. When Tech. Sgt. Steven Meng, 173rd Communications Flight's Network Operations NCOIC, joined the unit almost ten years ago, the security on these computers was basic.

"When I first got here computers only required a username and password but now they have moved to a PKI [public key infrastructure] method which is using your smart card," said Meng. "The smart card requires a pin number that authenticates back to a server that assures you are good to go. Since we've moved to the smart card it makes it a lot harder for someone to hack your user account."

As networks have evolved, extra security has been put in place such as firewalls, routers, and crypto keys in order to keep communication safe.

The Air Force sends patches for the network and we will get on average 20 a week to make our networks more secure, said Wilson. These patches serve to secure vulnerabilities found in the network that could compromise security.

"The amount of technology and security has really gotten important and it needs to be because in the cyber world, hacking has become so much more in depth and crazy," said Meng. "Through the smallest vulnerabilities, a good hacker could get in there and totally exploit the system, take over, and get critical information."

With the evolution of technology and how much it is used and depended on, it has become a priority in the military. Networks are a warfighting tool now.

"The leaps in cyber technology from when I joined, it's really advanced quite a bit," said Wilson. "The security of that has also made huge leaps because information is so readily available that it's almost too readily available. You have to be really careful what you're sending and who you're sending it to."