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The invisible blue line

Maj. Emmanuel Matos, 47th Communications Squadron commander, discusses the merge from Windows 7 to Windows 10 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. The Commander’s Corner gives Team XL first-hand accounts of their perspectives, and lets the commanders share their experiences. (Courtesy photo)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

It’s done, after two years of posturing, preparing and delaying, the Department of Defense has fully embraced a current version of Windows as its baseline workplace Operating System. From Dec 2017 to the last week of March 2018, cyber professionals on Laughlin Air Force Base, led by the Scorpions of the 47th Communications Squadron managed the upgrade and replacement of over 1,700 computers. They ensured well over $1 million worth of equipment and terabytes of user data were successfully transferred. They discovered numerous technical problems and identified fix actions to ensure that the mission continued unfettered…but why? Why was this all necessary? Why did we spend all those months, and over 8,000 man-hours to get this done?

 

Simple — because we are at war.

 

Every day, the very foundation of everything we do from banking, to aviation management, communications and the electrical grid are under attack. These attacks come in the form of port scans, phishing emails with hyperlinks and safe looking attachments. Who are these nefarious actors that dare do us harm? (Well, that’s a harder question than the defense, because you don’t have to be a large, well-equipped nation to conduct cyber-attacks on the U.S. While you could be a nation state, you could also be an activist group, a terrorist group, or even just a kid playing around with some free kit you downloaded.)

 

No, this isn’t some cyber recruiting pitch, its fact. Today “barriers to entry” have strategic level effects on a nation, its military and its way of life that do not require the use of kinetic weapons. It can be done with a few strokes of keys on a keyboard from any internet connection in the world.

 

This is where you and Windows 10 come in. Most of us would never deploy to a combat zone with zero training or get into a vehicle that we didn’t know but this is what nearly every one of us do daily with our most basic military tool. We use our IT equipment without regard to its security and when was the last time it was maintained? Our IT equipment is the foundation of everything we do. With it, we answer staff correspondence, move equipment and people, plan our missions, log our training and update our health and family records. It’s essential to how we do business, but the same networks also pass more “secure” traffic, and send that information such as UAV video, satellite imagery, security camera footage and voice data around base or around the world. Our enemies know that, so they target our weakest link…YOU!

 

They know that if we are running systems that are no longer getting patches (I’m looking at you Windows XP and Windows 7 users), or that have many known vulnerabilities (JAVA, Adobe), they can get in that precious network. Once they are in, they can hop from machine to machine, stealing information, planting logical ticking bombs or creating backdoors. The Windows 10 migration helps us get after this better by standardizing the baseline so our cyber professionals can quickly assess network health and implement security changes more rapidly. It reshaped the cyber terrain across Laughlin AFB and the DoD, which helps us once again take control of our “high ground.”  So, next time you get a message that reads, patches have been installed and your “weapon” needs a restart. Get after it Airman. The mission is counting on you.