HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Army National Guard Cyber Network Defense Teams from across New England put their defensive skills to the test at Joint Force Headquarters this week for a training exercise designed to simulate a cyber-attack.
Cyber and intelligence analysts from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont collaborated for months at the Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center in Massachusetts to develop Exercise Cyber Yankee, which they hope will set the standard in cyber defense training.
“Our emphasis is on learning key skills in cyber defense and to respond to them at an interservice and interagency level,” said Lt. Col. Richard Berthao, the Director of Information Management for the Massachusetts Army National Guard, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.
During a distinguished visitor briefing May 7, Berthao explained that part of the reasoning behind the multi-state collaboration was to solve the issue of funding. A single state might find difficulty in obtaining the necessary resources, while a multi-state or regional partnership might provide assistance that is more locally-oriented than a response from the government.
Hanscom Air Force Base was chosen as the site of the training due to its centralized location for participants, therefore cutting travel costs at its high-tech training facility. Berthao expressed intent for the Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center to continue to be developed and utilized on drill weekends and annual trainings to hone core cyber defense concepts.
“This is key for the National Guard and Reserves,” said Berthao.
“Many troops rarely have the opportunity to sharpen these skills on a daily basis.”
Those who do work in technical fields, however, lent their expertise during drills and personal time over the past six months to get the project off the ground.
“These are traditional Citizen-Soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Woody Groton, New Hampshire Army National Guard. “About 80 percent of the people here have jobs in the private sector.”
Also lending their support to Exercise Cyber Yankee were several government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Secret Service. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratories and the MITRE Corporation also assisted in the training. Their support helped make the training, realistic and aided in the validation of a proposed field manual.
“We’ve had some great feedback from the teams,” said Rhode Island Army National Guard’s Lt. Col. Mike Tetreault. “They’ve actually pulled that manual out, looked through certain pages, and thwarted attacks just by following procedures in that manual.”
The dozens of team tool kits, standard operating procedures and team-developed troop tactical procedures will be combined with daily assessments in a mass after action review to take place at the end of the week. The final assessment will be pushed up to National Guard Bureau in hopes of establishing a standard of defense against cyber threats. Whether the Bureau picks it up, the states involved feel confident in their teams’ responses to the scenario.
“The National Guard knows how to respond to incidents, whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes,” said Groton. “And now it’s cyber too.”
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