Information Warfare: USAF Seeks One In A Million

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August 25, 2010:  The U.S. Air Force is looking, real hard, for a few good hackers. What the air force wants is some of the "world class" hackers. These people are literally "one in a million", with less than 10,000 of these Internet experts in the world. Few want to join the military, as they have more freedom of action, and higher pay, working in the commercial (or criminal) sector. But the air force has recruited some of these elite software engineers, and eventually loses most of them to the civilian economy. To get even this far,  the air force has come up with a convincing pitch; that it offers challenging assignments that are available nowhere else. The Department of Defense is the largest user of the Internet on the planet, with a wide variety of equipment and technology, and the air force has access to all of it. So the air force still gets some very good hackers, for a few years, anyway. The air force has long attracted the technical elite, put them in uniform and let these ubergeeks do their thing. 

The air force was the first American military service to get into the Internet in a big way, and continues to take the lead in Cyber War matters. The U.S. Air Force has also taken the lead in developing Cyber War weapons. Air force hackers are usually the first to spot new enemy intrusion techniques, and are believed to have created powerful intrusion tools and techniques themselves.

The air force has also formed two rather unique "aggressor squadrons." These do not help pilots deal with foreign aircraft and different tactics, but helps sysadmins (computer network system administrators) deal with foreigners, or Americans, trying to hack into military computers. These are the units that are attractive to potential hacker recruits. Both of these squadrons spend much of their time attacking American military networks, to discover vulnerabilities before a real enemy does.

The Information Warfare Aggressor role is similar to the "tiger teams" commercial firms hire (and the air force pioneered) to test the defenses of corporate networks. The two aggressor squadrons have increased the quality and quantity of attacks that can be launched against U.S. systems, to see how well the defenses hold up. Members of the squadron then analyze the results of their attack. Finally, the aggressor hackers tell the sysadmins and other concerned personnel of the target unit what they did wrong, and why.

At the other extreme, the air force has added Cyber War training to the many other subjects recruits are taught in boot camp. It will only be an hour or two of fundamental safety procedures. But since nearly everyone in the air force uses a computer, it is expected to make a difference. The air force is scrambling to teach all of its personnel how to use their PCs safely, and avoid getting hacked. There is continuous training for this, throughout every airman's career.

 

 


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