CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea-- A team from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) recently deployed to the Republic of Korea to conduct cybersecurity vulnerability assessments of operational technology (OT), control systems and supervisory control and data acquisition systems on behalf of the Department of the Army. Due to local COVID-19 restrictions, the Advanced Threat Landscape and Simulations (ATLS) team was required to quarantine in barracks at Camp Humphreys for 14 days upon their arrival, a time they got through with the help of local volunteers. Grateful for their support, the team seized the opportunity to pay the kindness forward later in the trip.
“We spent two weeks quarantining in Army barracks upon arrival, and the Soldiers running the barracks, as well as other Soldiers and volunteers on base, worked to make the quarantine as bearable as possible, despite being stuck in a tiny room with three other people for 14 days straight,” said Hannah Theisen, a member of the ATLS team. “The first full day out of quarantine, we volunteered on base, putting together care packages for Soldiers. Base personnel worked to help us during quarantine, so it was nice to feel like we were giving back.”
With a report due by mid-summer, the team knew they needed to head overseas as soon as possible, despite continued restrictions and uncertainty regarding what to expect upon arrival. The Camp Humphreys community donated care packages, small appliances, dishware, food and baked goods, and answering any and all questions. Later in the trip, the ATLS team helped put together 575 additional care packages, a poignant moment in the midst of a trip that had been postponed for more than a year due to the ongoing pandemic.
“Volunteering was very personal to me,” said ATLS team member David Kalohi. “My sister and her husband recently moved from Camp Humphreys, and they absolutely adored the community and how it came together during COVID. She told me about all the volunteer programs and everything that the community was doing to help Department of Defense personnel quarantining in the barracks. Their help alleviated a lot of stress and anxiety that came with travel during COVID. I had to pay it forward and give back in any way that I could.”
In addition to the outreach effort, the ATLS played a vital role while in the Republic of Korea. Nation states are increasingly demonstrating capabilities of targeting OT through cyber-enabled means in order to compromise, degrade, disrupt and destroy processes that interact with the physical world. OT critical infrastructure encompasses the supporting services and utilities that enable an organization to perform its mission, such as power generation, distribution and transmission systems, HVAC, water and sewage, communications and manufacturing systems. OT differs from information technology by focusing on changes to physical processes and the physical world.
The ATLS team evaluates the technical and non-technical security control implementation in OT, industrial control and other systems that support the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. They perform a holistic analysis of the OT systems’ security program and assesses their capability to identify, prevent, detect, respond and recover from hostile cyber activity. Vulnerabilities are then documented, giving decision makers the information needed to understand risk posture and make decisions to increase security of Army and DoD networks.
“This mission is important,” said Chris Rials, another member of the ATLS team. “The assets provided by the Army installation are important, and our job doesn’t stop at the end of the day or during holidays or during pandemics. It is important to always support our nation and our partner nations’ interests and security, no matter the conditions.”
“The opportunities and diversity of mission that we take on here on Team ATLS, at ITL and ERDC, continue to impress me,” Rials continued. “To see the sacrifice that so many endure, no matter how small, gives me hope and reaffirms my faith that we are on the right path, even in these somewhat uncertain times.”