Army limits soldiers to AKO

FCW in the MIDDLE EAST: Army Knowledge Online protects e-mail messages, preserves bandwidth

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — To conserve bandwidth and better protect electronic messages being sent home by troops, the Army recently restricted soldiers' access to commercial e-mail sites and is requiring them to use their Army Knowledge Online (AKO) e-mail accounts.

Col. Mark Spillers, information assurance program manager in the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) communications office at Camp Doha, said Army officials made that decision "within the last month" because e-mail messages set via AKO are more secure and more efficient in their use of bandwidth.

"We need to protect the limited bandwidth we have out here, and we're restricting access to sites like Yahoo and Hotmail," for that reason and because AKO e-mails are better protected and more reliable, Spillers said in a March 29 interview.

In addition to e-mail, the AKO portal, which now includes more than 1.2 million users, offers Army news, distance-learning opportunities, a collaboration center, a search engine, a chat room, customized personnel data and more.

Spillers, 45, a reservist in the 335th Signal Command in Atlanta, has been in Kuwait for about two months. He said all Army users have been briefed on operational security procedures for e-mail, including not transmitting any information — such as precise locations or troop movements — that could be used by the enemy to harm coalition forces.

"I know traffic has increased in the last few weeks since we pushed everyone to AKO," Spillers said, adding that the portal has performed admirably since usage ramped up. "I haven't noticed any problems of extended downtime."

Maj. Clinton Wallington, AKO team leader, said restricting use of Internet sites falls under the authority of the local commander and is usually made for operational security reasons.

"AKO is an encrypted session, meaning no one can read anything you transmit from your computer to our servers, but if you send an e-mail it may pass through an unsecure e-mail server, which could be intercepted and read," Wallington said. "But that's normal for any other piece of e-mail you send, unless you specifically digitally encrypt it with your [Common Access Card] or a software certificate that's installed on that computer. AKO Instant Messaging is encrypted as long as it's from AKO user to AKO user."

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