New Hampshire cyber team in El Salvador

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Erica Rowe
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 157th Communications Flight spent a week here, July 21 through 24, discussing cybersecurity as part of the on-going New Hampshire state partnership program with El Salvador. 

The team, comprised of communications subject matter experts, looked at and discussed key areas of network vulnerability and ways to ensure networks are not compromised.

"Hackers are finding new ways to get into our network," said Maj. William Wilson, 157 CF commander. "The network is a weapon system, and just as we protect a plane, we must also protect our network."

Typically associated with the Help Desk and aiding with computer issues, the communications flight has added another element to their list of capabilities: Cyber Protection Team (CPT).

"The CPT has been around for a while but it's new to our level," said Wilson. "We have a Cyber Protection Team so that we're ready to step in when called upon."

Even though cyber protection teams are rather new to the N.H. Air National Guard, the communications flight are doing all they can to ensure their Airmen are properly trained. From participating in several cyber exercises such as Cyber Shield, Cyber Guard and Cyber Yankee to creating a cyber-lab to allow their members to explore the cyber realm.

"The cyber-lab gives us a safe environment to simulate cyber-attacks and practice network defense in depth," said Staff Sgt. Alan Dwyer, cyber operations and network administrator. "It is a continuously evolving tool used to educate Airmen about the rapidly developing cyber landscape."

As part of the State Partnership Program, which began in 2000, Airmen were able to use their expertise to assist the Salvadorian Air Force with their network security.

"The Salvadorian Air Force extended an invitation for us to come down here, and help them with their network, specifically cyber-attacks," said Wilson. "I like to use the phrase 'crawl, walk, run;' this trip we're just identifying what they have for a network and how to protect it. They're very network security conscious - they feel it's their weakest link."

Even though the training was aimed for the country's Air Force, other Salvadorian agencies also took advantage of the training opportunity. 

"We're talking with [Salvadorian] Navy, [Salvadorian] Air Force, and we also have joint staff members from Joint Headquarters El Salvador," said Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Inferrere, plans and implementation technician. "It's very much a shared effort and they understand the opportunity here, and they are really intrigued to see how we can secure their network."

Inferrere added he can understand from talking with the joint force that they are really interested in getting the Salvadorian Air Force trained to a level that they can sustain without needing our help in the future.

Unlike the United States military, the Salvadorian government does not have the same funding for network security.

"The United States military is afforded a lot of extra training and equipment that [the Salvadorian military] necessarily doesn't have or get, "said Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Howard, cyber operations. "So we're trying to assess what they have for a network and provide them with knowledge and hopefully with equipment so they can be better prepared for the things we're training them for."

Wilson agreed with Howard, adding, "our networks are different, and it's not that we're better, it's that we have a more robust network and more money invested in our network. They're going to get there; they're building the foundation for the house so it takes time."

The small team from New Hampshire is hoping the training they provide to the Salvadorian military will help them in the future.

"Few years from now is when they're going to be where we are at now," said Howard. "So with us giving them a helping hand and guiding them, hopefully they haven't made the same mistakes we've made and they're better suited to deal with the threats as they come."

While the days were long and contained much information shared through a translator, spirits remained high.

"They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, so much so that in two days, we can't give them all they want, but we're able to give them some tools and we're able to identify what they need to do," Wilson said. "We're going to develop training plans for them, and we're going to send them an example of end user web-based training."

The commander highlighted that they're very receptive to the changes we recommended; with infrastructure tweaks, and believes they'll be fine.

Even though this is the communications flight first time in El Salvador, it's clear that their efforts were appreciated.

"It's a pleasure to have [them] here," said Sgt. Jose Javier Alvarado Orellana, Salvadorian Air Force electrician and communications technician.  "We never thought we would have them here because they are specialist in their career fields, so we are all very happy to see them here. We've learned a lot."

And this is only the beginning.

"It's going to be a long process but we're looking at the possibility of them coming to visit the state of NH and future visits for us to El Salvador to further the training and further the mission and the security of their network," said Inferrere.