As more and more military installations around the country move towards telework to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing concern about operational security.
During a force-wide town hall meeting Tuesday morning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged personnel to use proper cybersecurity hygiene, and be wary of emails from unknown origin that might include phishing or malware attempts.
On Monday, officials at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command in Maryland issued guidelines for how personnel should protect information.
“We would like to take this opportunity to remind teleworking employees of your continuing responsibility to safeguard information while in use and at rest,” officials said on ATEC’s Facebook page. “Employees should always consider information being processed at home to be at increased risk of adversary targeting and collection.”
It is an issue of increasing importance as the number of military personnel testing positive continues to spike. As of Monday morning, 133 service members have tested positive for COVID-19, per data released daily by Esper’s office. There are 44 civilians, 35 dependents and 31 contractors also battling the virus, with 15 hospitalizations across the Defense Department and five recoveries so far.
A Crystal City-based contractor, who worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, passed away on March 21, Pentagon officials said. It was the first known case of a Defense Department employee dying after testing positive for COVID-19.
ATEC, which provides direct support to Army Futures Command and other Army leaders through developmental testing and evaluations, deals with a lot of sensitive information. So ATEC issued guidelines for how personnel should handle it.
Many are basic OPSEC rules, including properly signing on and off and locking computers when not in use.
The command is also recommending keeping sensitive documents covered using a folder or envelope when not in use and during transportation, only using government-furnished devices for communicating government-owned information, not printing from a government-issued laptop onto a home printer and not discarding work-related papers in the trash.
ATEC also issued a more ominous guideline.
“Be aware of your surroundings, family and friends within ‘earshot’ do not have a need to know,” said the Facebook posting. “Immediately report suspicious activity or suspected data loss to your security manager.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.