Virginia cyber warriors join multi-state exercise at Camp Atterbury

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit prepare for Cyber Shield 2015 at their home readiness center Feb. 20, 2015, in Fairfax, Va. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit prepare for Cyber Shield 2015 at their home readiness center Feb. 20, 2015, in Fairfax, Va. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit joined more than 350 Soldiers, Airmen and civilians from 42 states for the 2015 Cyber Shield Exercise March 9-20, 2015, at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. The exercise focused on training and developing National Guard cyber capabilities, and Virginia Soldiers provided the opposing force, or OPFOR, as well as exercise participants.

“The mission was to conduct a joint cyber training exercise in order to develop and train cyber elements, threat analysis teams, reporting mechanisms and leaders,” said Capt. Chad E. Payne, officer in charge of the 12 DPU Soldiers taking part in the exercise.

According to a news release from the Indiana National Guard, the exercise was part of the National Guard’s ongoing efforts to improve readiness to respond to real-world cyber incidents. During the first week, Soldiers and Airmen received hands-on training, then the exercise itself was held during the second week. The exercise used a “cyber city” to simulate the defense of critical infrastructures in cyber space. The 6 feet by 8 feet city included working lights, tiny buildings, a hospital and working traffic lights with its own working power grid and mini industrial control systems. Soldiers and Airmen were given accesses to the systems and received mock scenarios of cyber-attacks and asked to react to possible threats by identifying the adversaries in the environment and exposing tracks of information, the news release reported.

Payne said the first week of hands-on training covered multiple applications, tools and systems related to the training scenario conducted during the second week.

“The training exercise consisted of individual teams defending a network from simulated cyber-attacks,” Payne said. “The teams were tasked with identifying the type of attack, where it came from and determining the purpose of the attack. Once the attack was detected, the team was then tasked with defeating the attack and then to strengthen the system in order to prevent future attacks.”

Cyber Shield 2015 was extraordinarily valuable to the DPU and to the participating units, he said.

“The training exercise provided an excellent opportunity for the Soldiers and Airmen to develop their cyber skill sets and apply them in a virtual training scenario,” Payne said.

The Virginia Soldiers providing the OPFOR operated from the Department of Defense Cyber Range in Stafford, which provided cost savings and maximized training opportunities, explained Capt. Matt Benton, Cyber OPFOR branch chief for DPU.

“The Cyber OPFOR’s role at Cyber Shield was to be the force that provides the actual on-network offensive attacks,” Benton said. “An example might be that the network defenders are supposed to respond to a defacement of a website in a network they are to protecting, and they should go through the actions involved with detecting, remediation and all the other procedures from a technical, political or business decision making process.”

Benton said that the DPU Soldiers worked with the Cyber Range for two days prior to the exercise by helping to configure the OPFOR attack systems as well as test connectivity for the networks to be used in the exercise. In the two days, the DPU OPFOR helped configure more than 60 windows systems and 60 Linux systems.

During the first week, the DPU OPFOR conducted training in preparation to complete the exercise scenarios with some slight testing and setup on the network, Benton said. During the exercise, the DPU OPFOR would work with the OPFOR at Camp Attterbury to come up with tactics and techniques for possible attacks for the OPFOR commander or respond to specific requests to assist.

“This was the first time a team has ever worked remotely as an OPFOR team, and this is a great cost savings for the future,” Benton said. “The team provided outstanding reach-back support as well as built rapport with the Cyber Range which looks to be involved more with the NGB in the future. Possible future training opportunities or support were discussed.”

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.