MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia National Guard, under the leadership of the Defense Information Security Agency, hosted more than 180 cyber experts and representatives from federal and state agencies to compete on behalf of the U.S.-Romanian team in the world’s largest international cyber defense exercise.
Exercise Locked Shields was run virtually by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, April 18-20.
The annual exercise enables cyber security experts to enhance their skills in defending national IT systems and critical infrastructure under real-time attacks. The focus is on realistic scenarios, cutting-edge technologies and simulating the complexity of a massive cyber incident, including strategic decision-making, legal and communication aspects.
This year, 24 friendly Blue Teams from 28 nations representing more than 2,600 participants competed. Participants took on the role of national cyber rapid reaction teams deployed to help their fictional country handle a large-scale cyber incident. Teams had to demonstrate effectiveness in reporting incidents, executing strategic decisions and solving forensic, legal and media challenges. The West Virginia-led U.S. team finished 16th.
“There were a number of objectives we achieved by participating in Locked Shields 2023,” said Maj. Bill Keber, U.S. Blue Team lead for Locked Shields 2023. “First, we built interagency, intergovernmental and multinational cyber response relationships through the execution of this exercise. We also built a framework to share innovating and emerging cyber defense best practices and collaborated with the next generation of the cyber workforce through collegiate-level student involvement. Overall, I couldn’t be more happy with how the exercise went this year and we look forward to improving our skills and competing in 2024.”
Exercise participants were graded on how well they protected their networks while following established gameplay engagement rules.
West Virginia National Guard participants included West Virginia’s Army Interagency Training and Education Center’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Battalion Mission Assurance specialists, legal specialists, cyber threat and intelligence analysts, and public affairs experts. Additional National Guard support was provided from Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.
One of the highest performing teams for the United States was the legal team, comprising members of the West Virginia Army National Guard, 130th Airlift Wing and U.S. Army, who finished 7th.
“Under challenging conditions, Blue Team 22 legal responded to multiple scenarios involving international aspects of the law. This team was a true joint effort, composed of attorneys from different services, nations and agencies. It is the most challenging, relevant, and rewarding legal training for cyber operations, and I couldn’t be more proud of the legal team and their performance,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott Applegate, U.S. Blue Team lead for the legal track.
Partnered with the U.S. Blue Team were students from West Virginia University, Marshall University, West Virginia Tech, the University of Hawaii and the University of Maryland Global Campus, in academic tracks ranging from engineering to cybersecurity, media and law.
Additional agency participants included the Defense Information Systems Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Financial Services and Information Sharing and Analysis Center, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. Army Reserve, the State of West Virginia, Aerospace and Civil Military Innovation Institute.
“Locked Shields provides a dynamic and unique opportunity to exercise cyber defense capabilities for our service members and agency participants in a fast-paced and challenging environment,” said Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, West Virginia adjutant general.” By continuing to partner and collaborate with cyber experts across the federal government, private and public sector and our state government, we are building resilience and future capabilities for our state and nation.”