Everything is listening in the digital age

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick S. Ryan
  • Secretary of the Air Force, Office of the Chief Information Officer
Today’s environment is filled with examples of technology designed to connect Airmen to the internet: smart phones, smart watches, and other common personal technology that is always capable of connection. While Airmen grow more connected to the digital world, the connections open the door to insider and external threats eager to use those vulnerabilities to subvert data, plant malicious code or simply activate that entry point for later use.

The Air Force culture has integrated an understanding of smartphone capabilities and risks because they’ve been with us for more than two decades. It’s common knowledge that smartphones send and receive data and can therefore be used as a tool to transmit data for espionage purposes. We think about the risks and have adapted to them for the most part by leaving those devices at home, in the car or in lock boxes as appropriate.

The issue now is the many blossoming technologies with similar “smart” capabilities that pose an equal threat, yet appear harmless.

Current Air Force policy places the majority of risk mitigation upon the owners of the work space and not as specifically on individual Airmen, but Airmen can, and do, play a vital role with regard to protecting data.

As new devices such as smart home security systems and appliances, water bottles that transmit the amount of fluid consumed, and toys that use voice recognition technology and internet connectivity to engage children, Airmen must be cautious and adapt behaviors in line with threat made possible by each new smart product.

Many times, the end goal of cybercrime isn’t strategic military objectives, but instead simply identity theft for monetary gain, which is why Airmen are dual-targets and cyber hygiene is just as important at home as it is at work.

As policy continues to catch up to an increasingly agile and fast moving technological world, Airmen must serve the critical role of instituting personal cyber hygiene. They must add cyber to existing wingman traits.

Questioning the mission impact of smart devices in the workplace, researching their cybersecurity capabilities or even just disabling their Wi-Fi connectivity features will go a long way in establishing a more secure Air Force culture as well as the home front. Asking questions before purchasing smart technology will also add a huge layer of protection for Airmen and their families.

“Personal cyber hygiene is the foundation of cybersecurity culture. Airmen and their families should take that extra moment to understand the risks involved with all things connected to the internet. Whenever possible, take steps to harden those devices through security patches or disabling of Wi-Fi when not in use,” said Pete Kim, the Air Force chief information security officer.

Ultimately, cybersecurity is the epitome of a team sport. As technology gets smarter, Airmen must heighten their awareness and efforts to protect themselves and the Air Force. It is vitally important to be extra vigilant and recognize how more products are becoming “smart” and connected, and to know the risks those devices present both at home and work.