Terry Zink: Security Talk

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US Air Force adds training in cyberwar

US Air Force adds training in cyberwar

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I read an interesting article today that the US Air Force is adding the basics of cyberwarfare for new recruits to its training:

The US Air Force will train all new recruits in the basics of Cyberwarfare and add more advanced schooling for others to help combat the growing threat of attacks on US computer networks.

Four-star General Robert Kehler said details are still being worked out on a Cyberwarfare component for basic training, but it would be brief, perhaps an hour or two total, and would cover only the fundamentals.

A more advanced, undergraduate-level training program will begin in June to train officers and enlisted personnel for a new US Air Force career field in cyber operations, Kehler said.

He likened it to existing undergraduate training for pilots, navigators, missile operators and space operators.

Kehler, who heads the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, spoke to the annual National Space Symposium and in a separate interview. The Space Command oversees the Air Force's Cyberwarfare operations.

Kehler said the basic training component would cover such basic precautions as using firewalls and passwords.

"We teach them at basic training fundamentals of an M-16 (rifle), for example, and an M-9 (pistol), and so we want them to know the fundamentals of the computer network that they're going to be operating in," he said.

The more advanced training will last six months and include skills currently taught to communications operators plus additional skills in computer networks and vulnerabilities. That will be followed by more specific training.

The first class will include about 16 officers. Kehler said several sessions are planned each year because the Air Force will need to produce about 400 officers annually with skills in Cyberwarfare.

They will be assigned jobs across the Air Force, including the 24th Air Force, based in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, a component of the Space Command responsible for Cyberwarfare and Air Force computer networks.

It’s interesting that the military is now adding these basics.  But basic training that covers only firewalls and passwords, and only lasting an hour or two, is hardly anything.  One would think that most new recruits would already know the basics of passwords and firewalls but I suppose if enforcing strong passwords is something they teach, than it would be a bonus.

It will be interesting to see what types of advanced operations are taught in the advanced course.  I would think it would include stuff like hacking, botnets, buffer overflows, stack dumps and traces, malware, and other sundry subterfuge.  But even then, I doubt six months would be enough.  It’s one thing to teach these things in a course and it’s quite another to experience them in real life.  It takes people in the industry years to gain enough knowledge such that it comes to them second-nature.  There’s simply so much out there that I would think that real life training would be better acquired by having them run the servers at the Pentagon, or the Department of Defense, or Homeland Security, or something.  It is there, in real life, that you really learn to cut your teeth by having to deal with this stuff every day.

I wonder how the air force teaches that sort of thing?  In warfare training, they can have drills and drills and simulate combat scenarios.  This is in order to teach recruits not to freeze when it comes to real life battle.  If you can simulate it enough in a “safe” environment, it starts to become ingrained in you so that when it is no longer safe, your training kicks in.  What sort of training can prepare a recruit for cyber attacks?  Are they simulated?  Does the military put someone into a server room and then start launching “fake” DOS attacks, and then see how the people fend them off?

Cyber security for most people is an iterative approach.  You do a bunch of trial and error and over time you start to learn to recognize patterns that attackers use.  Furthermore, it is based off this past experience that you can reach back into your memory banks and react more quickly when new threats appear.  In other words, training is useful but experience counts for so much.  Mind you, doing cyber security in the air force probably is a pretty good deal.  One wonders if it is as lucrative as working at the NSA?

One wonders what the air force will do with such graduates (I arrogantly expect that if I were to take the course I would easily breeze through it).  If they need someone to teach stuff about spam, I’m available… on weekends.

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