National Guard on hand for election cybersecurity

While a new bipartisan bill clarifies that governors can call on the National Guard to protect critical election infrastructure, some states have already activated guard units.

Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill to support the National Guard’s role in helping state and local governments improve the cybersecurity of their election infrastructure. 

Currently, the National Guard is limited in how it can support states’ cyber defenses, but the senators’ bill makes clear that states governors can call on the National Guard to protect critical election infrastructure.

“The National Guard fights to protect Americans from cybersecurity threats every day, and it is essential that they have the authority to provide support to state agencies and local governments working to keep us safe online,” Cornyn said. “By ensuring the National Guard is able to work with states and localities to improve their cyber infrastructure, we can make sure the U.S. stays one step ahead of bad actors.”

Some states have already activated the National Guard to assist with election security.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney issued an executive order on Oct. 15 activating the Delaware National Guard Cyberspace Operations Squadron to work with the state's Department of Elections and the Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) on cybersecurity-related issues  through the end of the year. 

Delaware National Guard Public Affairs Director Bernie Kale told Delaware Public Media that about 20 guard members will partner with DTI to model threats and make recommendations about remediating vulnerabilities they find. They are also authorized to advise or augment DTI’s analytical and incident response resources on Election Day to ensure informed and rapid responses and support any other state agency with election-related cybersecurity assistance.

The 194th Wing of Washington’s Air National Guard is preparing to safeguard that state’s election systems by analyzing traffic, monitoring firewalls, testing defense protocols and identifying vulnerabilities.

“The Secretary of State’s office has been a willing partner and said, ‘Hey, bring your best hackers and do your worst,’” Col. Ken Borchers, commander of the 194th wing, told the News Tribune. “They’re taking an avant-garde approach to cybersecurity in that they really want to test themselves to make sure the elections system is running as best as it can.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said the Washington National Guard’s team augments the work her own office’s team does by monitoring network activity and conducting phishing tests and penetration testing.

In Colorado, meanwhile, Gov. Jared Polis on Oct. 19 issued an executive order for state’s National Guard’s Cyber Defense Forces to help protect election infrastructure through Election Day. The order activates up to 10 cyber defense specialists to participate in training exercises and support the Secretary of State with election cybersecurity defense.

This article first appeared on GCN, a Defense Systems partner site. 

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