Va. Guard cyber specialists conduct network assessments

SANDSTON, Va. — Virginia Army National Guard cyber experts put their skills and experience to work to help a Virginia locality strengthen its network after completing a weeklong vulnerability assessment March 25, 2016. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe authorized funds to put Virginia Guard Soldiers on state active duty to conduct the first in a series of assessments aimed at improving network security in the state.

“Cyber security is a key priority for the Governor, and a recently released Virginia Cyber Security Commission Report recommended that Virginia Guard capabilities be leveraged to assist localities in identifying potential risks within their information technology infrastructure,” explained Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “The Secretary of Technology allocated funding for the Virginia Guard to purchase the required equipment and put Soldiers from the Data Processing Unit on duty to conduct the assessments.”

To manage the assessment mission, a unified command was established consisting of the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Office of the Secretary of Technology, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Center for Innovative Technology and Virginia Department of Military Affairs. DMA is the state agency that oversees the Virginia Army National Guard.

“Working with the locality has been a very positive experience, and they were very appreciative of our support,” said Capt. Michael A. Kane, officer in charge of the assessment team. “We were able to identify areas where they could make improvement and strengthen the network security, and I think the assessments will provide value for localities of all sizes. Our Soldiers were honored to be able to assist our fellow citizens of the commonwealth and form the new partnerships.”

Additional assessments will take place through the middle of the summer. In the interest in security, details about the locations where the assessments are being conducted will not be released, Williams said.

Virginia National Guard cyber specialists are trained to the same standards of their active duty counterparts, but they also bring with them extensive experience and skill for civilian jobs in the information technology field, Williams explained.

“The effort to use National Guard Soldiers to train, assist and advise Virginia localities was the result of ongoing dialogue with the Cyber Working Group,” explained Col. Adam Volant, commander of the Information Operations Support Center (Cyber.) “Working In concert with the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and state authorities, an agreement was made on prevention of cyber vulnerabilities by conducting assessments. We had tremendous support from the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Secretary of Technology.”

Volant credited Governor McAuliffe for his support in a number of successful initiatives including establishment of the cyber commission, cyber working groups and agreement on authorities in coordination with the Attorney General of Virginia.

Volant also singled out the significant experience Soldiers from the DPU bring to the mission. “DPU Soldiers have been trained by their full time employers in addition to the military training and bring critical professional certifications with them to the mission. They are relied upon for their expertise in the information technology field in the civilian sector, and we are fortunate to be able put them to work helping making networks in Virginia localities safer.”

As part of ongoing growth of cyber forces throughout the Department of Defense, the National Guard announced plans to activate 13 additional cyber units spread throughout 23 states by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to an Army news release published in December 2015.

“Our goal for cyber defense is to train, equip and provide highly-skilled forces responsive to the needs of the nation,” said Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “Working with the Army and Air Force, our cyber squadrons and teams will provide trained and ready Soldiers and airmen to support requirements established by the services and U.S. Cyber Command.”

The Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing will stand up a new cyber operations squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, according to multiple announcements made Dec. 9, 2015, by Gen. Frank J. Grass, the Chief of National Guard Bureau, the Governor of Virginia and the Virginia Congressional Delegation. Virginia was one of four states selected to stand up cyber operations squadrons by the Department of Defense. Approximately 70 airmen will be assigned to the cyber operations squadron, and they will be a combination of full-time Virginia National Guard Airmen and traditional drill status Guard Airmen who normally train one weekend a month and 15 days a year.

As a National Guard unit, the squadron will have both federal and state missions. The cyber operations squadron’s primary federal mission will be cyberspace mission defense protecting Air Force and U.S. critical infrastructure against cyber attacks. As part of the state mission, the unit will be available to assist state and local government agencies with vulnerability assessments to help improve network security.

Originally formed in January 1975 to provide data processing support to National Guard Bureau, the mission of the DPU has evolved over the years and is now poised to conduct full spectrum cyber operations. The unit has more than 160 Soldiers whose missions include conducting web risk and vulnerability assessment in support of U. S. Army Cyber Command and other federal agencies. They are also prepared to support the Commonwealth of Virginia with computer network defense and recovery operations.

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