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Defending against cyber attacks

Military-civilian relationships are vital

Washington Guardsmen and civilian agencies participated in Cyber Shield 21, the largest unclassified cyber exercise ever conducted. Credit: JM Simpson

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Breaking News - A recent cyber-attack on a civilian company has resulted in the polluting of a small town's water supply.

"The attackers are inside the network of this company," explained Maj. Sameer Puri, Washington Army National Guard, Chief Information Officer, "and they are using ‘cyber injects' to resist our attempts to defeat and remove them from the network."

Leading a small team of about 20 other cyber warriors at Camp Murray, Puri and his team have their work cut out for them as they struggle to regain control of the network. 

The town does not exist and this specific attack has not happened. But cyber-attacks are a reality.

Welcome to Cyber Shield 21, the largest unclassified exercise of its kind in the nation designed to defend against such an attack.

"Cyber incidents are an ongoing and substantial threat," said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a press release.

"In 2021 alone, America's power plants, food supply, water supply, health care, law enforcement and defense sectors have all come under attack."

Along with the 20 cyber warriors at Camp Murray, Cyber Shield 21 brought together about 800 National Guard soldiers and airmen, plus teams from the Navy, Coast Guard and Army Reserve, to participate in a hybrid in-person and online environment across the nation with interagency partners from all levels of government and cyber defense experts from industry and corporations.

"Relationships matte, and they become stronger as we work together," emphasized Puri. "This citizen-soldier relationship is the strength of the Guard."

Other entities working with the cyber warriors at Camp Murray were the 7th ID, 1st Brigade, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Tacoma Public Utilities, the WA Fusion Center, the University of Washington, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Washington State Patrol, cyber agents from the Seattle FBI office, the Coast Guard's cyber branch (District 13, Seattle), the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard.

"Throughout this exercise, we are educating the community about our abilities while at the same time expanding our education and skill set," commented Chief Warrant Officer Michael Olmsted, an embedded observer of the exercise participants at Camp Murray.

He also said he was pleased with the actions of participants.

"They have moved quickly and made excellent recommendations to meet, counter and remove the threat," added Olmstead.

Centered at Camp Williams, Utah, the exercise began on July 10 and ends on the July 24.

Cyber Shield is a defensively focused tactical cyber exercise sponsored by
the Army National Guard and a host of other partners.

Also participating for the first time in the exercise were teams from 15 other countries.

Conducted at the unclassified level, it allowed for greater participation from other agencies and corporations to include healthcare networks, utilities, law enforcement and academia.

"Cyber incidents are an ongoing and substantial threat," said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a press release.

"We have emerged as a trusted and valuable resource in helping our local, state and federal partners defend and mitigate against cyber-attacks."

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