National Guard seeks weekend cyber warriors

The National Guard wants to increase cybersecurity capacity by attracting exiting servicemembers and full-time private-sector professionals.

The National Guard hopes to be a conduit for tech talent into the Defense Department, nabbing full-time tech cyber workers and turning them into weekend cyber warriors.

"It's [about] making sure we have the right people and the right trained people," George Battistelli, the National Guard's chief of defense cyber operations, told reporters April 9 during a roundtable event.

"Because the Army National Guard has a very unique ability where we can train soldiers up and then they go and they work in industry because there is a cybersecurity deficiency, they maintain their traditional status where they drill on the weekends."

The Guard hopes to grow from its 54 cyber units across 38 states to a 3,880-strong cyber workforce by 2022, with hopes of capturing exiting service members into reserve or Guard components, said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Burkett, vice director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau.

The National Guard is in the midst of its eighth Cyber Shield collective training exercise, where upwards of 800 Guard members, industry partners and civilians across 40 states meet up in Camp Atterbury in Indiana to shore up cyber defensive training for 15 days.

The exercise differs each year, and this year's focus is on detection and remediation against a range of threats that are "very close" to real world scenarios ranging from malware to nation-state attacks on infrastructure.

The exercise also addresses election disruption preparation, with support from the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies, in the event state leadership requests additional support.

Twenty-seven states put in National Guard cyber support requests in the run up to the 2018 midterm elections. It's too early to tell how many states will ask for support in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, but about the same number is expected, Battistelli said.

While readiness is a core mission of the exercise, it has also become a way to boost cyber training by engaging industry and bolstering public-private partnerships necessary for infrastructure protection.

"We start looking at our critical infrastructure, all of that is digitized. We don't own that terrain; our partners do," said Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard.

"When we talk about the capacity of critical infrastructure ... there's an incredible amount of experience and technical skills" needed to navigate it, and "those skills are very perishable," Neely said. "And so sometimes the private sector will bring in unique skills that we just don't have the capacity to build in DOD and aren't necessarily able to train enough people to do the work."

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