From: Maryland Gazette

By Col. Rivers Johnson

The cyber defense of the homeland is a critical mission and relies on a whole of government approach. Key players for the defense of the homeland include governmental agencies, the private sector, academic institutions, as well as the Department of Defense. Cyber defense requires a number of skill sets and capabilities as well as detailed coordination for a quick response. The cyber threats against our critical infrastructure are increasing every day.

To examine just such a scenario, the U.S. Cyber Command recently conducted its first ever exercise planned in collaboration with cyber subject matter experts from across the National Security Agency, the National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. The exercise, called Cyber Guard, was a tactical-level exercise focused on national defensive cyberspace operations and command and control with mission integration between Cyber Command/NSA and the National Guard in a dynamic joint cyber training environment.

The primary objective of the exercise was to establish lasting Department of Defense/NSA relationships with the National Guard, in order to increase cyberspace capability and situational awareness to better support the DHS and the FBI in the “Defense of the Nation.”

The weeklong exercise, conducted on Fort George G. Meade, included approximately 500 participants, about 100 of whom came from National Guard units. The exercise provided realistic training opportunities for the command, agencies involved and National Guard units. Like most exercises, the participants were part of either the Blue Forces — “the good guys,” the Opposing Forces — “the threat,” and the Controllers, who provided oversight and guidance, ensuring the exercise ran smoothly.

The Blue players exercised fully coordinated defensive response actions and mitigation measures in support of a homeland security scenario. The exercise was conducted in a tactical, virtual environment on a closed cyber range. Cyber Command is responsible for operating and defending the Department of Defense networks, and Cyber Guard provided the command an opportunity to put into practice and institutionalize processes and procedures while providing a framework for future operational imperatives.

“A superb, world class event!” said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the deputy commander for U.S. Cyber Command. “I saw a complete cadre of cyber warriors, (active — all Services, Reserves, National Guard, Government civilians, and contractors) so energized about fighting an extremely complex, realistic cyber threat scenario. The cyber culture is beginning to take shape, and we shouldn’t underestimate the value of creating this kind of culture at the tactical levels.”

Cyber Guard provided an environment where multiple cyber incidents could affect a variety of targeted locations and facilities. The National Guard would play a critical role in the cyber defense of the nation, and Guard units from 12 states were on hand and responded to a variety of scenarios which included cyber attacks against critical infrastructure such as water treatment facilities, a gas pipeline, and the electrical grids.

SSgt. Dennis Chambers, who is assigned to Joint Forces Headquarters — Missouri National Guard, was one of the players for the exercise. Chambers, a computer network defense analyst, said the exercise provided him and the Missouri team he supported a better understanding of the various stages required to execute their mission in defense of the homeland.

“I am excited to participate in Cyber Guard 12-1. I’m participating in the first full spectrum discussion of how the National Guard, Cyber Command, and federal agencies can come together and apply their collective cyber-expertise to support critical infrastructure service providers. The exercise explores the various avenues of how the National Guard is able to continue its existing mission of supporting and defending the homefront into the next frontier,” Chambers said.

Cyber Command is a sub-unified command and relies upon the assets, authorities and the partnerships it has with the NSA. Charles Berlin, director of the NSA’s National Security Operations Center, said, “One of the key take-aways for those who participated in Cyber Guard, especially for the National Guardsman, is going to be the personal networking they developed while here. Those personal networks will pay dividends down the road.”

The Department of Defense has a critical role in developing and supporting the nation’s cybersecurity efforts, and the Cyber Guard exercise was just one of the training opportunities to ensure DoD’s Cybersecurity needs are met.