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    NY Army Guard cybersecurity Soldiers participate in national computer security exercise

    NYNG CPT 173 Soldiers participate in Cyber Shield 2021

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni | New York National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Cyber Protection Team 173 participate...... read more read more



    Story by Eric Durr and Spc. Michael Kerr

    New York National Guard

    SEAGIRT, New Jersey - Eighteen New York Army National Guard computer security specialists are honing their skills, July 10-23, as part of Cyber Shield 2021, the Department of Defense’s largest unclassified cyber defense exercise involving approximately 800 National Guard cyber specialists, law enforcement, legal and industry partners across the country.

    The Soldiers are members of the New York Defensive Cyber Operations Element and Cyber Protection Team 173, or CPT 173 for short, which is a joint New York and New Jersey unit.

    While the two are separate units, they work and train together on a regular basis, according to Master Sgt. Jody Doherty, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Cyber Protection Team 173.

    The Army National Guard conducts the exercise remotely with teams operating from locations across the country and a headquarters element at Camp Williams, Utah, according to the National Guard Bureau.

    The annual exercise is a concentrated effort to develop, train and exercise cyber forces in the areas of computer network internal defensive measures and cyber incident response, according to the National Guard Bureau.

    These cyber defensive measures can be employed to defend and protect critical cyber infrastructure including industry, utilities, schools, health care, food suppliers as well as military facilities.

    “Cyber incidents are an ongoing and substantial threat in 2021; America's power plants, food supply, water supply, health care, law enforcement and defense sectors have all come under attack,” said Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a media roundtable on June 29, 2021.

    “These cyber threats extend our adversaries' reach across borders and time zones and it could have devastating consequences,” Hokansan said.

    “Anything in our supply chain, from fuel transport, the manufacturing of munitions, or even a power plant can be a target of cyber warfare, and Cyber Shield is how we train to respond to these situations”, Doherty said.

    Cyber Shield 21 brings together the nation’s top cyber defense professionals from National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to various governmental, nongovernmental and industry partners in a hybrid in-person and online environment.

    The first week of the exercise involves training classes and hands on exercises for participants.

    The part of the exercise which kicked off on July 19 puts the cybersecurity Soldiers to work identifying an intrusion into a computer network and then countering the hacker’s actions, Doherty explained.

    The exercise is similar to a command post exercise at the battalion, brigade or division level, in which Soldiers go through the same communication and logistics processes they would execute in combat, Doherty said.

    New York is participating in Cyber Shield 21 with a team of 18 personnel at the New Jersey National Guard Training Center in Seagirt, New Jersey.

    Another eight personnel are providing exercise support in Utah along with cyber Soldiers from Pennsylvania.

    “This is a special opportunity for us, being able to work side by side and see each other’s faces,” said Spc. Miles Gaitan, a cyber operations specialist assigned to CPT 173. “Our team is a wealth of knowledge, and we all share our skills and assets to get the job done," he added.

    The scenario, which all participants across the country are using, involves a customer that has identified intrusions into its computer systems, Doherty explained. The state’s Governor has sent the cyber protection team in to help.

    “The customer has reached out through mutual assistance channels, indicating that something bad has happened. There have been computer intrusions,” Doherty said. “Our folks show up and they run through a slew of initial policy and legal requirements, then we start looking at what we can do on their networks to counter.”

    “You never know when an attack is going to happen, you just know that you need to be ready,” explained Sgt. David Kablan, an information technology specialist assigned to CPT 173 and second-time participant in Cyber Shield. “I think of it almost like a basketball game where we are always on defense, and the offense is targeting whatever weak points they can find.

    “We know they are going to try to score, but our goal is to have an answer for any and every shot they take,” Kablan said.

    Because there are legal implications for military personnel working on non-DoD computer networks, a judge advocate general is part of the team working with the exercise scenario company, Doherty said.

    Capt. Daniel Baek, the deputy staff judge advocate for 53rd Troop Command, participated in Cyber Shield for the first time and said he was excited to contribute and provide legal advice.

    “I try my best to be a force multiplier here, not to stop or slow down the exercise but to make their work as smooth as possible,” Baek said. “My job is to make sure we can still achieve the objective in a legal way.”

    The National Guard, with support from the Army Reserves, is conducting cyber incident response training designed to develop, train, and evaluate cyber-capable forces and units, threat analysis teams, operations centers, and leaders. The United States requires a full range of capabilities to defend against a variety of threats and to protect our networks, according to guard officials.

    While the New York and New Jersey cyber Soldiers are participating in the exercise from the same location, they are working as separate teams, Doherty said.

    Participating independently allows the Soldiers from the two states to deal with challenges appropriate to their skill level, while still having access to more skilled members, Doherty explained.

    The exercise is running for eight to nine hours each day, and after action reviews take place throughout, he said.

    The goal, at the end of the exercise, is for the cyber Soldiers to identify the intrusions and to return the customers computer network to normal, Doherty said.

    “The team environment we’ve built and commitment to the mission is what keeps me coming back,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Pedro Dominguez, a CPT 173 Soldier who lives in Miami and is operating out of Utah for this year’s Cyber Shield. “In my service career I was searching for a place where I would be able to apply myself fully, and every Soldier on the team is doing exactly that.”

    With their talents in such high demand, many of the Soldiers here stay in the unit because of the relationships they have built and their commitment to service, according to Doherty.

    “We have a motto here, we train people to leave but we treat them to stay,” said Doherty. “No matter what level an individual is at when they come into the unit they continue to develop their skill sets, and it’s always a joy to watch these Soldiers grow and improve.”

    With this the 2021 exercise behind them, the Soldiers will be applying the skills they have polished in both their civilian and military lives to make our digital world safer, said Major Richard Meehan, the team commander.

    “We’ve built an elite team, and I could not be more proud of our Soldiers,” Meehan said.

    “This is a defensive mission, and our primary weapon is the keyboard,” he added.



    Date Taken: 07.20.2021
    Date Posted: 07.21.2021 13:33
    Story ID: 401283
    Location: SEAGIRT, NJ, US
    Hometown: ALBANY, NY, US

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