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Why COMSEC is important?

  • Published
  • By 618 Air Communications Squadron

Communication security can be something as simple as a decoder ring you received in the mail as a child or as advanced as an electronic mathematical algorithm created for securing satellite communications thousands of miles away in space.  Whether you were decoding messages written with your friends as kids by secretly assigning numbers to letters or now receiving a classified messages and operational plans via satellite and radio communications, COMSEC, in some shape or form, is a part of your life. 

In general COMSEC is the prevention of unauthorized access to communication’s traffic.  It is imperative to ensure information we transmit, transfer or communicate is secured not only in the military environment, but in aspects of civilian life as well.  One does this by ensuring the two information assurance pillars of confidentiality (ensuring information goes undetected or unseen) and integrity (making sure information is unchanged), are maintained within our various ways of telecommunication.

COMSEC maintains confidentiality and integrity through the three main disciplines: cryptographic security, physical security and transmission security.  Both physical security and transmission security encompass preventing unauthorized access by means of preventing interruptions or possible harm of a transmission or ensuring the safety while controlling access to cryptographic information, documents and equipment.  Meanwhile, cryptographic security encompasses the physical encryption of data rendering it unreadable without proper decryption.

Cryptographic security and the encryption of information are probably the most recognized disciplines within COMSEC.  Encryption, the process used to change information into an unreadable format, are used in multiple ways.  For example, the military and other government entities use encryption to protect classified information, businesses use encryption to protect trade secrets, while hospitals use encryption to protect patient information.  Encryption can also be used on computer systems to protect files containing personal information such as social security numbers, credit cards, tax information, email and chat histories.  This ensures that even if your laptop or even cell phone is stolen, the data contained is still secure and unreadable by others.

The compromise or mismanagement of COMSEC can negatively impact our lives in many ways by means of identity theft, turning the tides of war or possibly causing unnecessary loss of life.  An examples of this is the German Enigma machine of World War II.  During World War II, a French spy was able to obtain access to German COMSEC encryption material which, in short, was ultimately used to compromise German telecommunications and gain intelligence on their military operations.  The advantage gained from this compromise created an incalculable advantage and largely aided the Allied war effort. 

In today’s day and age majority of our everyday work and personal devices have moved to technology. As warfare shifts to the cyber domain and the increased risk of being hacked on items connected to the internet, COMSEC should be of an upmost importance.  

COMSEC facilitates the security of our personal information, our nation’s infrastructure, the integrity and confidentiality of our telecommunications, and our military operations.