Northwest Military Blogs: Army West Blog

September 14, 2017 at 9:01am

WA cyber going national?

Benjamin Beberness, the chief information officer for the Snohomish County PUD, speaks with Col. Gent Welsh & Maj. Gen. Bret D. Daugherty in April. Photo courtesy Washington National Guard

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New, bipartisan legislation named for the late Major Gen. Tim Lowenberg would build upon the success of the Washington National Guard's cyber units and create dedicated units around the country to help states counter cyber-attacks.

The legislation is sponsored by Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA), who has seen the Washington National Guard's cyber work in action, as well as Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS). As of Sept. 8, the legislation had been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services.

"States need reinforcements in the fight against cyber attacks," Kilmer said in his release announcing the proposal. "They currently face a gap when it comes to protecting their communities from hackers and other cyber criminals. Local national guard personnel have the right expertise to make sure states like Washington have the tools to fight back."

Washington National Guard's cybersecurity units have become leaders in the nation, forging relationships with private industry and local partners, and tasked with finding vulnerabilities in public networks. The soldiers in the units became the first in the nation to see if they could get into the network of a public utility when the Snohomish County Public Utility District asked for help. It only took 17 minutes to break into the Snohomish PUD's system. After, the Guard worked with the PUD to improve its security.

The Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg National Guard Cyber Defenders Act would create Cyber Civil Support Teams (Cyber CST) through the National Guard to coordinate responses to significant cyber-attacks in their state. These teams would have to be up and running within five years of the law's passage. The National Guard Bureau would submit a report to Congress outlining the plan to meet this deadline and work with the Council of Governors to establish when the teams would be used.

"Never before in history has there been such a tremendous gap between our awareness of a threat -- cyber and our lack of ability to do anything about it -- response force," said Col. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Wing. "That issue is solved with this legislation.   These teams will be the ‘connective tissue' that bring government and critical infrastructure providers together to help defeat those who are attacking America now with keystrokes, not bombs or bullets."

Cyber Civil Support Teams are proposed to be 10 members, half made up of full-time personnel and the other made up of traditional guardsmen, who likely work in a technology sector as a civilian. The teams would provide the connective tissue between local municipalities and private sector with national response infrastructures and agencies through regular exercises and outreach activities. The teams fulfill a two-fold mission encompassing cyber incident response and continual defensive cyber training.

The Guard also has worked with the Washington State Auditor's Office, the state Department of Licensing and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, among others, to test for vulnerabilities.

The new congressional legislation would be named for the late Maj. Gen. Lowenberg, who unexpectedly died Aug. 27. Lowenberg was the former adjutant general of the Washington Military Department and commander of the Washington National Guard and a major advocate for building cyber capability for the state and nation.

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