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FRISBEE Lab proves MDT flexibility in face of adversity

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Casey Lipe, 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron Mission Defense Team members NCO in charge, Senior Airman Gage Walters, 792nd ISS MDT member, and Tech. Sgt. Lavelle Burgess, 792nd ISS MDT NCOIC of mission defense programming, pose for a group photo at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, June 26, 2019. The MDT created the Functional Research Innovation Systems for Brainstorming and Evaluation Environment, or FRISBEE Lab, as a virtual testing ground for their shop, which has become an integral training tool. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Douglas Lorance)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Casey Lipe, 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron Mission Defense Team members NCO in charge, Senior Airman Gage Walters, 792nd ISS MDT member, and Tech. Sgt. Lavelle Burgess, 792nd ISS MDT NCOIC of mission defense programming, pose for a group photo at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, June 26, 2019. The MDT created the Functional Research Innovation Systems for Brainstorming and Evaluation Environment, or FRISBEE Lab, as a virtual testing ground for their shop, which has become an integral training tool. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Douglas Lorance)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but it takes a truly inventive mind to turn a necessary solution into an innovative advantage. 

The Airmen of the 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron’s Mission Defense Team showcased their inventive nature when they turned a workplace deficit into a new way to train Airmen. 

“The Functional Research Innovation Systems for Brainstorming and Evaluation Environment, or FRISBEE Lab, is an idea born out of necessity for our MDT,” said Tech. Sgt. Casey Lipe, 792nd ISS MDT NCO in charge.  “As a lean start-up however, we were not officially sanctioned for mission defense operations.” 

Because of this, the MDT could not get access to the formal training or funding for operations. Even though they worked closely with established MDTs for guidance, the largest obstacle to overcome was the lack of an official toolkit. 

A toolkit is comprised of software programs that helps operators perform in-depth analysis of cyber systems which support the mission defense system, without which the team was unable to fully perform duties. Thankfully, they had innovative Airmen within the unit to come up with a solution. 

“We created a smaller version we called the ‘toolkit-lite’ in order to practice with some of the same tools they use,” said Lipe. 

The next big hurdle was getting authority to connect their system to the domain. Undeterred, the MDT set to building a proof of concept in order gain approval to use their toolkit-lite. This is how the FRISBEE Lab was born. 

“We decided to program a virtual version of the mission system where we could prove just how useful the tools are,” said Lipe. “What started out as a proof of concept lab, transformed into a full-blown training and innovation environment.” 

Once the MDT created this virtual “sandbox” to prove their toolkit worked, they found they could also use it for training. 

“We can get old operational data and feed it through the virtual sandbox to simulate previous missions for new analysts to train on,” said Tech. Sgt. Lavelle Burgess, 792nd ISS MDT NCOIC of mission defense programming. 

On top of training, the virtual sandbox allows the MDT to test many different solutions in real time. This gives the team the ability to stress test information technology systems without fear of breaking them and causing a mission shutdown. 

“This allows us to try riskier things without degrading the mission,” said Burgess. “We are currently looking at creating a virtual malware analysis lab so we can expose and eliminate any weakness we find from the actual mission system before the adversaries can exploit them.” 

The FRISBEE Lab has already proven its unique value to the mission when the MDT found a critical data retrieval error in their virtualized network. After diligently working to find a solution for the virtual system, they were able to implement their fix to the live system. 

“This was significant since there was no disruption to the live network, and we prevented a potentially disastrous scenario where the live system could not properly update,” said Lipe. 

Even with the FRISBEE Lab’s success, the 792nd ISS MDT has their sights continuously set on the future. They want to expand the lab to create spaces to teach Airmen coding, and set up more virtual training missions to train new analysts before they have to run live missions. The team even plans on using the lab to simulate power outages and network attacks so technicians have can train for emergencies before they happen. 

“The lab is only the beginning for our team,” said Lipe. “We are looking to change the way the enterprise approaches cyber security.”