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Guard Cyber Exercise Aims to Stop Transportation Attacks

06-13-23 WR Cyber Shield
06-13-23 WR Cyber Shield
Washington Report

An annual National Guard cyber exercise that's now underway is focused on responding to attacks on the U.S. transportation system.

Cyber Shield 2023 began June 4 and will run until June 16 at the Army National Guard Professional Education Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Convening at Camp Joseph T. Robinson Maneuver Training Center, about 800 Guardsmen from 36 states and territories are learning how to address cyber incidents involving some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure.

"It’s really about integrated deterrence, right?" Brig. Gen. Teri Williams, the exercise’s director, said during a National Guard Bureau media roundtable June 6.

"That’s really kind of the next step, whether it’s operational technology, working in close collaboration with our allies, but basically to ensure that potential foes in cyber understand the folly of aggression," added Williams, NGB’s vice director of operations (CYBER).

Launched in 2007, Cyber Shield is conducted in an unclassified environment, enabling more participation from the Department of Defense’s external partners.

Since then, Cyber Shield has helped develop and exercise cyber forces in areas including computer-network internal defensive measures and cyber incident response.

This year, Cyber Shield will center on America’s freight rails, which are crucial to the nation’s military.

DoD has designated 30,000 miles of freight infrastructure as critical for mobilizing and resupplying U.S. armed forces.

Approximately 12,000 trains operate daily nationwide, with more than 1.33 million freight cars traversing 138,000 miles of active railroad from coast to coast.

"It’s really cultivating ideas from a broad range of experiences and backgrounds that really make this exercise what it is," Williams said.

"Resolve is tested, but it’s tested in a safe environment that we can really get after things and rehearse, you know, for one of our worst days," she added.

Col. Jeffrey Fleming, the exercise’s officer in charge, said this year’s participants will encounter "the common way the attack-chains play out" in today’s cyber incidents.

"So, they’ll face several different levels of the bad groups in the network utilizing the advanced tactics for whatever skill set or whatever operational campaign for the exercise that those bad actors have been selected to carry out," said Fleming, an Illinois Army Guardsman.

Cyber Shield 2023 additionally marks the first time State Partnership Program members will collaborate with Guard cyber teams.

Created in 1993, the SPP pairs Guard organizations with nations overseas in mutually beneficial relationships.

Five SPP partners will join Cyber Shield 2023: Poland and Illinois, Kosovo and Iowa, Armenia and Kansas, Moldova and North Carolina and Azerbaijan and Oklahoma.

Williams said building relationships like the Guard’s SPP ties is vital for protecting cyber assets after Cyber Shield 2023 ends.

"It is absolutely a team sport," she said. "We each have a part to play and if we’re all going on full cylinders, you know, it's a beautiful world."

— By Mark Hensch