The Skulls of the 92nd: Defending the front lines of cyber warfare

JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Members of the 92nd Information Operations Squadron work as a team to study mission data. Correct analysis of the information is critical to discovering and targeting threats posed to Air Force networks. 92nd IOS operators are able to combat the ever-present threat of attack on vital networks by dissecting codes, scripts and security configurations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Members of the 92nd Information Operations Squadron work as a team to study mission data. Correct analysis of the information is critical to discovering and targeting threats posed to Air Force networks. 92nd IOS operators are able to combat the ever-present threat of attack on vital networks by dissecting codes, scripts and security configurations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- In today's interconnected world, the threat of a devastating cyber attack has never been more real. State and non-state actors are constantly expanding their exploitation capabilities, developing increasingly intricate methods and toolsets designed to wreak havoc on networks. This problem can have potentially crippling implications for the U.S. Air Force. Fortunately, the Skulls of the 92nd Information Operations Squadron help form the front line of network warfare.

The 92nd IOS actively tests Air Force cyber defense measures, seeking out weaknesses and prescribing corrective actions, said Maj. David Neuman, 92nd IOS commander. This involves examining both hardware and operators across the domain.

"We perform checks against the Air Force network and specific mission systems to determine their security posture and identify any vulnerabilities they may have so the systems can be fixed," said Neuman. "We also assess the operators of the network and mission systems to determine their ability to react to threats and respond appropriately."

This is by no means an easy task. The complexity of Air Force networks coupled with the lightning speed of cyber evolution requires Airmen who are competent, professional and highly motivated.

"The ever-changing landscape of computers and networks gives us a challenge to stay in front of new technologies and maintain security as new systems and new technologies are added to the Air Force and its networks," said Capt. Mark Cole, Assessment Operations Flight commander.

To ensure the squadron stays on top of emerging cyber trends, training manager, Steven DeLoach, has instituted a comprehensive program that keeps the unit's Airmen informed.

"I carefully orchestrate what training people require based on their specific job in the 92nd," he said. "The nature of the mission constantly evolving and we need people to keep up with the latest skill sets. I search for any cutting-edge training or books which our people could use to further our mission."

This unrelenting progression has resulted in what Neuman described as "some of the best trained and security-minded people in the Department of Defense."

"I always thought I had a pretty good grasp on computers and networks and their security," said Cole, attesting to the skills of his peers. "When I started working here with these guys, I realized how much I took for granted and how much I still don't know. Having been here for almost two years, every day I am reminded about how much I still have to learn."

Beyond being skilled operators, though, members of the 92nd enjoy an astonishing level of esprit de corps. Their informal motto, "Once a Skull, always a Skull," testifies to the feeling of camaraderie in the unit. When asked to describe the squadron, one common thread runs through all the answers: family.

"The people in the 92nd continue to amaze me," said DeLoach. "We are able to fuse military, civilian and contractor personnel into a harmonious family. The assignment process brings in outstanding military personnel who are bright, intelligent and extremely enthusiastic about working here, while our contractor and civilian personnel bring a level of continuity which is needed."

"I can say without a doubt that the people here at the 92nd are some of the best people I have ever met," added Cole. "They are like a family and when you get here, they take you in and you become one of them."

These combined factors have resulted in an Air Force squadron that is extremely good at what it does, which is vital in the dynamic world of cyber warfare. Moving forward, the 92nd sees its role in Air Force operations expanding even further.

"Our mission will become more critical as cyber security gets more attention in the future," said Neuman. "We will become a more integral part of system development, growing closer to the systems developers to ensure security is being built into systems from the start."

Whatever obstacles the future holds, Neuman is confident his Skulls will conquer them in order to keep Air Force networks secure.