Changes in cyberspace culture a must

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Karen J. Hibbard
  • 55th Strategic Communications Squadron commander
Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, recently released a message to Airmen about the need for a change in cyberspace operations culture. In his message, he focused on the need for increased security for our networks and our role in making sure we protect those networks from the bad guys. Through a change in conduct, culture and capability, we must all open our eyes and make sure we are playing by the rules. 

Along with the culture shift to protect the network, we need to emphasize that the information technology systems we use everyday aren't just an administrative utility and easily dismissed or taken for granted, but rather key enabling devices for combat operations. As such, we need to change our mindset that because a computer is sitting on our desk, it's ours to do with what we want. 

We also have to change our conduct. General Schwartz said, "it's no longer the base network, everything you do has a global impact." If one computer on the network is infected or un-patched, it may be the "hole in the fence" that lets the enemy in. Our adversaries are trying every day to access data on our networks. In fact, they are looking outside the Global Information Grid for new ways in. 

What does your Myspace, Facebook or YouTube page, tell about your work? Do you identify coworkers or family members? What can be learned from combining the information from your "personal" pages? Take a minute from your day to analyze what you've posted, who you're talking to and whether it poses a risk. 

It's not about convenience any longer. We must adopt a culture where local exceptions and short cuts aren't acceptable. The implications of local risk taking have global implications. We must focus on protecting the network just like we would any of our aircraft or priority one assets. None of us would hesitate to prevent someone from tampering with one of our critical assets, but many people think nothing of opening that funny chain e-mail a friend sent or ignoring the annoying box that pops up to inform them their virus definitions are out of date. Leadership, both formal and informal, must recognize risky behavior and correct it on the spot. 

In a world of shrinking budgets and limited resources, the Air Force is fielding new capabilities to apply patches and detect vulnerabilities and compromises. These capabilities will take time to perfect. Even when they are perfected however, one "miss-handled e-mail," or one "one time won't hurt" shortcut; and millions of dollars in capabilities are circumvented. 

Here's the bottom line, every one of us needs to change the way we look at the network. It's not going to be easy, but we must make a conscientious effort to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.