Cyberwarriors guard virtual front

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — As coalition forces continue to engage the enemy throughout Iraq, the number of battles being fought in cyberspace also has risen, according to one Army information assurance officer.

Col. Mark Spillers, information assurance program manager in the Coalition Forces Land Component Command communications office at Camp Doha, Kuwait, said there has been a slight increase in cyberattacks against coalition systems since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, "but all along there have been pretty active attempts."

"These could be casual [probes], and sometimes we don't know if it's hackers trying to come in or simple scans," Spillers said during a March 29 phone interview. If a device is thought to be compromised, it is immediately isolated, taken off the network and scanned for viruses, but "we've done well to prevent that from becoming a problem."

Spillers, a reservist with the 335th Signal Command in Atlanta, has been in Kuwait for about two months. He said he could not go into any details about how the Army is protecting its systems or if any have been compromised, but he noted, "We're holding our own."

"With anything with cyberwarfare, the enemy is all around and we're constantly working to stay one step ahead of them," he said. "Sensors are constantly monitoring for scans or intrusion attempts against us."

On the physical battlefield, if troops are in danger of being defeated, procedures are in place to safeguard or even destroy endangered equipment and systems to keep sensitive data from falling into enemy hands.

For example, machines linked to the Defense Department's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network have removable hard drives, Spillers said, adding that similar protections exist for cryptographic tools in the field.

In addition to blocking electronic hacking and physical attempts to overrun their systems, the Army also must protect its information technology equipment from another constant nuisance: sand. When equipment is moved, it is kept covered, and cans of compressed air are constantly used to blow sand and dust out of keyboards and other devices. Back at the camps, most servers, routers and PCs are kept in environmentally controlled facilities, Spillers said, adding that excessive heat is also a growing concern.

"In general, we've had several years' experience with this going back to the Gulf War, and we've done a good job keeping [problems caused by] environmental conditions to a minimum," he said.

If a machine does break down, he said the service follows fix-and-replace procedures specific to the equipment. A help desk is set up at Camp Doha to deal with IT issues, and he said the Army has a "very decentralized network support structure" so forward-deployed computer users can get their questions answered and problems fixed at a local level.

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