How three letters erased my career

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. All residents and users of the Air Force network play a part in keeping it safe. Air Forces Cyber urges you to learn as much as you can about cyber security and implement those practices at all times at work and at home. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration by William Parks)

Protecting personal and classified information is a big deal. Do your part to keep info safe. If you have any questions about how to properly transmit data or how to safely configure your email and computer settings, contact your unit IAO. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration by William Parks)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- I lost everything. Gone. Finito.

Well, everything on my computer to be exact. But trust me, it was a lot.

I had recently compiled all my work files onto my hard drive in preparation to burn them to discs before I depart my current base. This included four years of work continuity, personnel documents, templates, my entire portfolio of work at this assignment, some current projects, training documentation and more.

I'll admit up front I should have known better than to put all my data in one place. I coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn't put it on my personal "U" drive, a CD or back it up on an approved external hard drive even though all those resources were at my disposal. Then it happened.

It was not a random BSD ("blue screen of death") No, that would have been easier to deal with. All machines fail at some point. I get that. However, my loss came as a result of a completely preventable human error - a classified message incident.

This CMI affected a number of people in the wing, and mine was not the most important info that was lost as a result. One minute our unclassified computers were just that, and then the email went out.

My unit Information Assurance Officer tracked me down at a meeting and asked, "Have you been on your computer in the past two hours?" I replied in the affirmative. They continued, "Did you open an email from [name that shall not be spoken]?" I again nodded. I was promptly directed to go sit by my computer and treat it as a classified system.

All I could think about as I sat there was how lame it was that I was going to lose all my data. I ran through the contents of my folders in my mind and thought about what I could get again on the shared drive or from others people, and then about what was irreplaceable. I was pretty upset. What upset me the most though was that someone had placed a line of classified info into a document marked "unclassified" and then sent it to dozens of people on the Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet).

There are two key lessons to be learned from all of this: 1. Ensure classified data remains on the classified network! 2. Don't put your "e-life" in one place - back up your important info!

A couple of sub points that some people learned the hard way is to turn off your reading pane on your Outlook account so messages are not viewed automatically. That was a key factor in determining who had their computer simply scrubbed of the email and who had theirs totally wiped. Those of us who intentionally opened the email or unintentionally opened it by means of the reading pane lost everything, while those who didn't just lost their computer access for a couple days.

Protecting personal and classified information is a big deal. Pay attention to the annual IA training many of us click through mindlessly in order to the check the block, and do your part to keep our info safe.

If you have any questions about how to properly transmit data or how to safely configure your email and computer settings, contact your unit IAO.