RICHMOND, Va. – About 20 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen participated in the Cyber Fortress operation with government and private sector partners Sept. 21-30.
Participants included Dominion Energy, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Department of Information Technology, the Virginia State Police and other local, state and federal agencies.
“Cyber Fortress Exercise afforded organizations the ability to respond to real-world situations and provided an opportunity to test Virginia’s cyber plans and better prepare for all future responses,” said Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, VNG chief of the Joint Staff.
“The success of the crew is demonstrated by the ability to execute a nationally-funded exercise in less than 10 months from concept to execution,” Ring said. “Virginia is ready to protect itself from future attacks thanks to the cooperation that has been put in place or to improve the CyberFortress.”
Ring said CyberFortress reaffirmed the Guard’s ability to support critical businesses that provide services to people across the region.
VNG Airmen assigned to Fort Belvoir-based 91st Cyber Brigade, Fairfax-based Information Operations Support Center and Richmond-based Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia Defense Cyber Operations Element and VNG Airmen assigned to 185th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, 192nd Operations Group, 192nd Wing at Joint Base Langley Eustis supported the event and was joined by other electronic security forces participating in the exercise.
“We have a lot to be proud of today,” said Shawn Talmadge, VDEM’s state emergency management coordinator. “This is one of the first online systems involving public and private sector organizations.
“We know the threat is real and very real,” he said. “From Virginia’s point of view, we need to look at how we can be more resilient and resourceful and use all of the government’s resources to support the private sector.”
Talmadge said the project is an opportunity to test Virginia’s cyber security system, identify gaps, and see how to use state resources like the National Guard.
He said future exercises will focus on more important things like transportation or communication.
“The Virginia National Guard benefits from partnering with the public and private sector to reduce the impact of cyber attacks on the Commonwealth’s citizens,” said Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of the 91st Cyber Brigade is the project leader.
McGuire said Cyber Fortress is a great example of how VNG works with state leaders and key stakeholders to benefit all Virginians.
“Not only is VNG planning to respond to floods and hurricanes, but VNG is planning to support with the same level of support for cybersecurity events,” McGuire said.
McGuire said that with cyber attacks on the rise, it’s more important than ever to bring together federal and state agencies and the private sector to protect critical infrastructure.
“Fifty years ago, a foreign player could not affect the infrastructure of the United States without a large investment,” McGuire said. “Now, with off-the-shelf technology, the gateway to critical networks is just a mouse click away from bad actors. This requires a public privacy approach to bring together all the resources available to protect critical networks, and that’s what we did with Cyber Fortress.”
The high-level exercise enabled senior leaders to discuss strategy and policy, while the multi-day session focused on military and civilian experts dealing with common cyber attacks.
“A key component of our overall security strategy is our strong partnership with our government partners,” said Adam Lee, chief security officer at Dominion Energy. “I believe that in order to effectively protect the American military, you need to train with the government agencies, which can respond in the event of a major cyberattack. Cyber Fortress helped us raise our relations to the next level.”
McGuire said preparations have already begun for the next phase of CyberFortress. He said that VNG has also partnered with the US Army CyberInstitute and Norwich University Applied Research Institutes to develop the advanced part of the game.