By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs
Cyber experts and business professionals gathered at Wichita State University’s Eugene M. Hughes Metroplex for the Wichita Cyber Security Forum, Oct. 4.
The forum offered “how-to” insights on reducing security risks, building strong defenses, protecting networks and recovering systems after a breach. The audience was filled with business leaders and IT personnel for small businesses, schools, government organizations and non-profit organizations.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, adjutant general, Kansas National Guard, was the keynote speaker for the forum.
“I’m really excited about what you all are doing here today,” said Tafanelli. “Why this is really important is that, worldwide, we spent about $71.1 billion in cyber security efforts [in 2017] and it’s projected that next year in 2018, we’ll spend in excess of $100 billion in the area of cyber security.”
Tafanelli emphasized the impact that cyber concerns have at all levels from national to state, and from businesses to individuals.
“Cyber security is one of those things that impacts every segment of our society,” he said. “It’s in our personal lives; it’s in our business lives. As of last year, it’s had an impact of about $400 billion on the U.S. economy and our businesses.”
Tafanelli explained how everyday cyber security was closely aligned with military operations. He recognized that, although most nation-states can’t compete with the U.S. with conventional weapons systems, they can easily wreak havoc on national security through cyber-attacks.
“When you look at the implications to our weapons platforms from a potential cyber hack, and what that can do to warfare, it really brings on a whole new dimension,” said Tafanelli. “Now that’s a major growth area as we look to the future of warfare.”
As a counter-measure, during the last 15 years, the Department of Defense has created organizations that learn the tactics and techniques of online enemies. Those organizations are called red teams.
“Right now, Kansas kind of leads the way in some of those innovative partnerships and collaboration that’s going to be necessary to thwart some of the cyber-attacks that we currently face,” said Tafanelli.
In particular, he named the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron and the 184th Intelligence Wing.
The 177th IAS is one of two red teams in the entire Air Force, and the only one in the Air National Guard. Often referred to as ethical hackers, they emulate forces that threaten the online security of the U.S. military. The Airmen are experts at finding and exploiting physical and cyber vulnerabilities by using the same techniques as a criminal hacker.
Once the Airmen break into a system or network, they show Air Force leaders what the weaknesses are and educate them in ways to prevent criminal attacks.
“Out of the three squadrons that I lead, [the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron] is the most creative bunch,” said Col. Chris Snyder, commander, 184th Cyber Operations Group. “They are not a black and white group, so they’re always thinking outside the box trying to figure out ways to get into systems.”
Snyder, accompanied by Lt. Col. Andrew VanderZiel, commander, 299th Network Operations Security Squadron, and Maj. Tristan Fries, flight commander, 177th IAS, answered questions during a discussion panel specifically about red teams.
They explained how civilian companies and organizations could use red team techniques to test their physical and cyber security.
“There are a lot of variations when we talk about what red teaming is and how it fits into the needs of your business,” said VanderZiel.
The panel advised the audience on what to prepare for prior to testing their security. They also recommended testing small sections, such as boundary protection systems and e-mail safety, before analyzing the complete enterprise.
“However your business is laid out, piece it together slowly and then get a red team in there to test the full scope of your entire network,” said Fries.
The panel emphasized the importance of understanding the fundamentals of security rather than relying solely on tools and software to secure the network. According to the panel, human behavior is the biggest weakness in any security system, whether cyber or physical.
“I’ve been doing this job for nine years and I don’t think I’ve ever used [computer-based software] to gain privileges on a network,” said Fries. “Every single time it’s been behavioral. Exploiting human factors on the network has been how we gain privileges most of the time.”
In addition to the red team panel, Air National Guardsmen from all over the 184th IW made presentations throughout the day. However, they represented private companies and organizations they serve outside of their military commitments.