The Defense Department’s latest in a series of exercises targeting cyber partnerships is helping to solidify links between agencies—an effort that will help prepare the government to respond to cyber incidents in the future.
The test drive of operational capabilities and interagency coordination between DoD components, the FBI and Homeland Security Department was executed as part of the recently wrapped Cyber Guard 14-1, which ended in early July at the National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The two-week exercise’s 550 participants included Cyber Protection Teams from U.S. Cyber Command and elements of DoD reserves, NSA, DHS and FBI. National Guard teams from 22 states comprised the majority.
“Practicing as an interagency team is essential to ensure national response to cyber events produce results that are effective and efficient,” said Greg Touhill, deputy assistant secretary of homeland security for cybersecurity operations and programs, according to a DoD release. “Exercises like Cyber Guard help us develop and refine key information sharing and coordination processes, understand each other’s capabilities and authorities, and operate in a manner that keeps us in the right formation to present the best national response.”
The National Guard and similar military components are emerging as critical pieces of a national cybersecurity puzzle that requires unprecedented coordination between federal, state and local authorities. National Guard elements have authorities to operate and collaborate with various levels of the government; there also is the benefit of a pool of cyber professionals trained in the commercial world who have the expertise the government needs.
“I think the National Guard and Reserves…have that advantage of having folks who do something else in their full-time job, and that gives us the natural population of potential cyber warriors who may be doing this in this civilian world,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said in May at the C4ISR & Networks conference in Arlington, Virginia. “And we need to mine that and groom that and reward that, and make sure the people doing this in the civilian world see [cyber] as an optimal career path in the military more than whatever job they’re in now. If we make a military career job in cyber prestigious…we can raise that profile and make it something that the best strive for.”
In exercises like Cyber Guard, those professionals dispersed throughout the military and civilian worlds are given an opportunity to hammer out the intricacies of working together – and also learn from each other.
“Working with our Air Guard colleagues was definitely one of the highlights of this training. Learning about their capabilities, tools and techniques is critical as we become force multipliers for each other's team,” said Capt. Eric Ruiz, the Maryland National Guard’s Army team lead, in a report from the Maryland National Guard. “One of the challenges for a major exercise like Cyber Guard is that you have multiple partners and leadership echelons that are seeking information during the incident. Teams learn how to communicate efficiently and effectively to accomplish the mission and help others who might need mission critical information.”
That approach is helping the broader government better determine the best ways to respond in the face of a domestic cyber incident, DoD officials noted.
“What you’re doing here is critically important to how we will respond on behalf of our nation to a major cyberattack,” Coast Guard Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, CyberCom’s director of training, told Cyber Guard observers. “The more we know and share about the adversary and the better-defined our processes are, the better we can defend the nation.”