Cyber Guard exercise focuses on defensive cyberspace operations

By Col. Rivers JohnsonAugust 17, 2012

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U.S. Cyber Command recently conducted on Fort Meade its first exercise in collaboration with cyber subject-matter experts from across the National Security Agency, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security and FBI.

The tactical-level exercise ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Aug. 16, 2012) -- 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 and 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. Cyber threats against our critical infrastructure are increasing every day.

To examine just such a scenario, U.S. Cyber Command recently conducted on Fort Meade its first exercise in collaboration with cyber subject-matter experts from across the National Security Agency, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security and FBI.

The tactical-level exercise called Cyber Guard focused on national defensive cyberspace operations and command and control with mission integration between USCYBERCOM/NSA and the National Guard in a dynamic joint-cyber training environment.

The primary objective was to establish long-lasting DoD/NSA relationships with the National Guard in order to increase cyberspace capability and situational awareness to better support the DHS and FBI in the defense of the nation.

The weeklong exercise included about 500 participants, of which approximately 100 came from National Guard units.

The exercise provided realistic training opportunities for the command, agencies involved and National Guard units.

Like most exercises, participants were part of either the Blue Forces (the good guys), the Opposing Forces (OPFOR - 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 Guard provided the command with 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, deputy commander for U.S. Cyber Command. "I saw a complete cadre of cyber warriors 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, so Guard units from 12 states were on hand. They responded to a variety of scenarios including cyber attacks against critical infrastructure such as water treatment facilities, a gas pipeline and the electrical grids.

Staff Sgt. Dennis Chambers, who is assigned to Joint Forces Headquarters-Missouri (National Guard), was one of the players for Cyber Guard. A computer network defense analyst, Chambers said the exercise provided him and the Missouri team he supported with 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," Chambers said. "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."

U.S. Cyber Command is responsible for operating and defending DoD networks. Its establishment was directed in June 2009 by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gen. Keith B. Alexander assumed command in May 2010.

As a sub-unified command, U.S. Cyber Command relies upon the assets, authorities and partnerships it has with the NSA.

"One of the key takeaways for those who participated in Cyber Guard, especially for the National Guardsman, is going to be the personal networking they developed while here," said Charles Berlin, director of the NSA's National Security Operations Center. "Those personal networks will pay dividends down the road."

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general for the state of Wisconsin who has helped lead the Governor's Homeland Security Advisory Council efforts, also praised Cyber Guard.

"Cyber Guard was a great exercise," Dunbar said. "It allowed existing National Guard cyber units to gain valuable training in a complex emergency exercise facing substantive cyber events, which challenged all of our systems - civilian and military.

"The National Guard provides key surge capacity to the governor and the nation for cyber operations. Including the National Guard can only improve our nation's capacity to respond. And in the cyber realm, we must act with urgency to develop these relationships and continue to test them."

Cybersecurity continues to be a priority across government. The Cyber Guard exercise was just one of the training opportunities to ensure DoD's cybersecurity needs are met.

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