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Scott launches its first Mission Defense Team

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)

Senior Airman Christopher Povlich, 375th Communications Support Squadron mission defense operator, observes as Capt. Will Stover, 458th Airlift Squadron C-21 pilot, performs a pre-flight inspection Oct. 16. Povlich was part of Scott’s first mission defense team, which is responsible for updating the 375th Air Mobility Wing commander about any cyber vulnerabilities within the wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)


Scott’s first Mission Defense Team was launched Oct. 16 when a group of Airmen from the 375th Communications Support Squadron searched for ways to better protect the 458th Airlift Squadron C-21s from potential cyber vulnerabilities during a flight.

MDT’s were first introduced in 2014 as part of the Cyber Squadron Initiative, an Air Force-wide effort that aims to provide mission assurance through cyber defense and maintenance. The MDT’s main goal is to arm the 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, Col. John Howard, with knowledge about any cyber vulnerabilities.

“If there’s any cyber vulnerability risks, we’re there to mitigate them to make sure the mission goes on,” said 2nd Lt. Jared Schlak, the officer in charge of the MDT. “The wing commander assigns us to a mission, and we were chosen for the 458th mission.”

Nearly every successful Air Force mission depends upon a well-protected network, but in the case of a C-21 flight, a compromised network could seriously endanger anyone on board.

“When (pilots) are updating their apps in their electronic flight bag, if they do that in an unsecure place, then an adversary could get in and change something or maybe take down the electronic flight bag,” said Schlak.

He explained that if that happens during the flight, it might delay the mission or, worst case, cause a crash.

First Lt. Kevin Hinz, 458th AS C-21 pilot, worked with the MDT throughout the planning and execution of the mission.

He said, “From the flying perspective, any mission degradation, no matter how small, is something we try and eliminate. As pilots, we try to be perfect in the execution of our mission. No matter how small it is, even if this were to turn up a very small, little improvement that we could make, it would be a worthwhile endeavor. That’s still something we want to mitigate.”

Within just three days of the flying mission, the MDT worked on improving existing vulnerabilities.

Senior Airman Christopher Povlich, 375th CSPTS mission defense operator, said, “We have already identified some processes and cyber vulnerabilities, and are now working on building courses of action.”

Initial MDT’s have successfully neutralized a number of real world threats. In October 2016, malware attacked a number of bases across the Air Force. The 482nd Fighter Wing’s MDT at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., detected the malware and successfully defended their jets from the attack.

Now, Scott’s MDT will provide the same protections to networks here.

“Eventually we’re going to observe other missions that the wing commander directs,” said Schlak. “The goal for us is to work around any ‘what-if’s’ to make sure they don’t happen.”