NEWS | Oct. 5, 2020

Pennsylvania National Guard members practice guarding networks against cyber attacks

By (Courtesy article)

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Sixteen Soldiers assigned to the Pennsylvania National Guard joined more than 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from more than 40 states from Sept. 12-27 for Cyber Shield 20, an exercise designed to sharpen their skills as network defenders.

Cyber Shield 20 is defensively focused tactical cyber exercise hosted annually by the Army National Guard, with assistance from the Air National Guard. The exercise incorporates private companies and law enforcement agency partners to help ensure protection of America’s cyberspace.

The team here, part of Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Defensive Cyber Operations Element, focused on defending a network against malicious attackers attempting to infiltrate using malware, viruses, ransomware, phishing attacks and more. Trained cyber operators role play as the online adversaries, also known as the Red Team, which adds significant realism to the exercise.

Most Soldiers gained their initial technical proficiency from the training provided by the Cyber, Signal, and Intelligence branches of the military. Many of these soldiers bring additional technical expertise from their civilian cyber occupations and education -- which is one of the great benefits of a reservist military force.

“The first week was more academic, while the second week focused on practical application through a simulated exercise,” said Capt. Sean Smith, deputy chief of the Defensive Cyber Operations Element, who works in IIoT smart manufacturing technology in his civilian capacity. "The academic week was important to learn new best practices, tools and techniques. The practical exercise week provided a controlled environment for our Soldiers to exercise the new technologies and processes that will eventually be used in the real-world."

Exercises like these improve the Pennsylvania National Guard’s ability to defend against real-world cyber incidents at a state or federal level. An example of a recent use of PNG cyber defenders was during the 2019 election where team members defended election systems and monitored social media.

According to Smith, the exercise is also important as it brings Soldiers together from across the nation.

“It is the largest cyber exercise in the U.S., and it is an opportunity to network and learn from our peers across the US,” he said.

Anyone interested in cyber defense should speak with their recruiter or their retention NCO about getting into a technical career field, Smith said.

Since 2016, the Pa. Guard cyber branch has partnered with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and expanded to working with the private sector, colleges and universities, and a range of agencies at the local, state and federal levels.

Pennsylvania National Guard is one of the largest and most deployed National Guards in the nation and headquartered at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. In addition to its federal mission, the Pennsylvania National Guard responds to domestic emergencies, working with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, U.S. Northern Command and dozens of federal, state and local agencies. The Pennsylvania National Guard maintains a joint operations center at Fort Indiantown Gap staffed by Pennsylvania Guard members 24/7 that support its domestic mission.