Army Signal Command protecting networks from hackers

by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Ward

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz., (Army News Service, Feb. 11, 1999) -- Soldiers on patrol in countries spanning the globe are the sentries who keep enemies at bay. Even as they stand guard at the dawn of the new century, a system called information assurance is doing likewise -- with them in mind.

Information assurance is the umbrella term for what is a new way to ensure that the military's computer networks withstand withering attacks from foreign and domestic hackers.

Leading the charge in this effort is a team of computer networkers and specialists with the U.S. Army Signal Command. This team has been working since March 1998 to accomplish a mission handed down from the highest levels of the defense leadership.

According to Lt. Col. James M. Withers, the head of the team, the team's charter is simple: devise a strategy that will keep critical networks as safe from intrusion as possible, and an action plan to help get there.

"Our mission, as outlined by the Army vice chief of staff is to implement near real time, worldwide, common picture of the Army's Military Information Environment," Withers said.

This was done by combining the Army's Information Service Provider functions with the Army Regional Computer Emergency Response Team. This, according to Withers, ensures that reporting of this common picture of this Military Information Environment to a central coordination center, located at Fort Huachuca.

"This action provided the Army Signal Command with an enhanced acquisition of unified and global near-real-time protect, detect and react capabilities through the lash-up of these two functions," Withers said.

Withers said that this process involves computer systems specialists from around the world. These personnel, in tandem with the Army Regional Computer Emergency Response Team, combine forces to detect hackers and others as soon as possible before damage can be done.

Computer systems specialists with the 1st Signal Brigade in Korea, the 516th Signal Battalion in Hawaii and the 5th Signal Command in Germany operate and maintain Network and Systems Operations Centers. These soldiers and civilians are responsible for the detection effort in their theaters and report activity to the Army Signal Command headquarters.

Once at the ASC level, Army Network and Systems Operations Center staff performs over-watch on most of the Army's networks. This is an effort to keep the networks humming along, providing the information lifeline soldiers rely on as they perform their peace enforcement role around the world.

All of this, Withers said, is being done to ensure the Army's critical circuits and information systems don't fall prey to "cyberterrorists," who wish to do damage to the Army's ability to protect America. "The Army is in the lead in this battle thanks to the can-do attitude of the team that assembled here at ASC headquarters several months ago," Withers said.

Now that the team has slammed the door on these terrorists and locked up the networks, the need for constant vigilance goes on. That's where the Regional Computer Emergency Response Team and its theater-level counterparts come in.

"Without the human element, this mission won't get done. The soldier is at the tip of the spear," Withers said. "Our team is a part of the process -- from fort to foxhole."

(Editor's note: Ward is with the U.S. Army Signal Command's Public Affairs Office at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.)