Be more vigilant: Protect passwords, government systems

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla --  In an era when identities can be easily stolen and networks compromised, Air Force Sustainment Center officials are urging its network users to be more careful. By adhering to two requests, the number of attempted hacker intrusions and virus downloads can be drastically reduced.

Officials stress that AFSC network users should never plug non-government USB devices including cellphones and MP3 chargers into the system. Also, if user names and passwords must be sent via email, send them in separate and encrypted messages. That way if someone does hack into a message, he doesn't have both the user name and the password. Air Force systems include the Air Force Portal, My Pay, Thrift Savings Plan and the Employee Benefits Information System.

"USB devices can easily spread malicious logic," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Gebert, 78th Air Base Wing Network Security noncommissioned officer in charge.

Prinston Wilson, 72nd ABW/SC Information Assurance officer who also handles network violations and credential disclosures, agreed.

"We pick up a lot of things on our cellphones. If you're using your phone as a flash drive and saving to it, and it picks up a virus, once it gets into our system it work its way up," Mr. Wilson said. "Credential disclosures have become a growing problem. Hackers can do a lot with your information. They can take your Social Security number, job history and personal data, put the data together and use it to gain access into other systems."
In August, there were 12 reported AFSC violations, three for USB incidents and nine for account credential disclosures, or ACDs.

Mr. Wilson said oftentimes a credential disclosure occurs when a user is in a rush and sends a list of user IDs and passwords unencrypted through email to his or her personal email address. When these user IDs and passwords are sent unencrypted, they can easily be picked up by hackers and used to gain unauthorized access to government systems.

"Usually people keep the same password for a lot of systems and when hackers find out one password, they can figure out access into other systems," he said.

If a USB violation or credential disclosure is found on a government system, the account is disabled and only a commander -- colonel or above -- can unlock the account. The commander will also have to complete a memo explaining the incident and actions that were taken.

"USB violations have been reduced dramatically over the past eight months due to Group Policy Object capability being implemented," said Ryan Moorman, AFSC Logistics Portal Content manager at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "Robins Air Force Base, Ga., implemented this capability first and has had no USB violations since."

The GPO capability is a policy that forces a computer to block a driver from being loaded when a flash device is plugged in. The driver is the necessary component that lets an operating system and flash drive communicate. Without a driver, a computer won't read a USB, Mr. Moorman said.

"There is no steady trend of ACDs based off the statistics of the past six months, however due to the sudden rise in August, AFSC leadership has looked to create awareness on the issues across the center," Mr. Moorman said.