Fort Knox continues unyielding cyber security vigilance heading into national awareness month

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All over the nation, federal government organizations are gearing up for the 15th annual National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October.

Fort Knox is no different.

Though plans to celebrate the month are less overt, cyber security officials say their awareness will remain as relevant and unyielding as they are at any time during the year.

“At any time, we always talk about partnership, whether that’s a partnership between the [Network Enterprise Center] and the end users because cyber security is everyone’s responsibility at the end of the day,” said Richard Jackson, chief of Cyber Security Division. “The users a lot of times are our first line of defense. They’re the biggest target.”

The awareness month was created by the National Cyber Security Alliance & the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in October 2004 with this in mind. According to the official awareness month website at https://staysafeonline.org, the campaign has since grown into a much larger effort that includes small and medium-sized businesses, corporations, education institutions, and cyber-safe youth all across America.

A part of the month involves the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign, which, according to the website, includes not just each of those concepts, but also “the capstone concepts of the campaign, like ‘Keep a Clean Machine,’ ‘Protect Your Personal Information,’” and more. That overarching campaign has been around for the last eight years.

For Fort Knox network engineers, the reality of cyber threats can be as simple as emails entering a user’s inbox.

“If a user receives a suspicious email, they are to contact their [information management officers]; that’s their representative to us,” said Jackson. “The IMO is then to take a look at it, triage it, determine whether it’s legit or something suspicious. The IMOs would then contact us, and we would give them guidance.”

Jackson said software in the network constantly scans incoming messages for suspicious markers, which will garner the attention of network specialists.

“If we see a systemic issue, we can take measures to block the suspicious email,” said Jackson.

Jackson said network engineers are doing a fantastic job of stopping cyber threats at the firewalls before they have a chance to get to users.

“There are a lot of sensors in place; there are a lot layers of protection between the outside and the users,” said Jackson. “But occasionally, things float through the cracks, through the defenses.”

That’s why training and vigilance of users can make the difference, said Jackson.

The NEC at Fort Knox has multiple lines of defense to prevent suspicious hacking attempts from penetrating, which includes auto-scanning each system plugged into the network, and their efforts have garnered noteworthy attention and respect from the highest circles.

They recently scored high marks from the Defense Information Systems Agency during their accreditation inspections, receiving a three-year authority to operate for both their unclassified and classified circuits. DISA owns the Fort Knox network, and every organization on the network must maintain DISA’s network standards. The three-year authority is the highest honor an organization can achieve.

“It means they consider us a low threat. That’s a kudos to us. It’s a hard one to get,” said Jackson.

All the layers of protection and 24/7 monitoring, however, should never replace common sense and awareness, according to Jackson.

At the end of the day, users will remain the main focus for cybersecurity awareness.

“For end users, the more educated they are,” said Jackson, “the better protections we have.”


The National Cyber Security Alliance has released its overarching theme and four weekly themes for this year’s awareness month. They are the following:


Cybersecurity is our shared responsibility and we all must work together to improve our nation’s cybersecurity


* Make your home a haven for online safety (Oct. 1-5)

* Millions of rewarding jobs: Educating for a career in cybersecurity (Oct. 8-12)

* It’s everyone’s job to ensure online safety at work (Oct. 15-19)

* Safeguarding the nation’s critical infrastructure (Oct. 22-26)