Washington National Guard targets cyber-attacks

  • Sun Oct 7th, 2012 4:05pm
  • News

Associated Press

TACOMA — The Washington National Guard is focusing its attention on a project that can help protect state and local governments, as well as utilities and private industry from cyber-attacks.

The guard is leveraging a decade of investment in cyber security at Camp Murray in Lakewood for its new assignment, The News Tribune reported in Sunday’s newspaper.

They want to bring to the digital world the kind of disaster response they use to help fight wildfires and floods, said Lt. Gent Welsh of the Air National Guard.

“Just as ‘Business X’ needs the National Guard to come in and fill sand bags, ‘Business X’ might need to call the National Guard if it’s overwhelmed on the cyber side,” Welsh said.

The National Guard has a natural advantage in this new effort because it draws on employees from companies including Microsoft and Amazon.

These high-tech citizen soldiers serve in units such as the 262nd Network Warfare Squadron, which carries out worldwide cyber-security missions from a nondescript brick building on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They’re tasked with protecting Pentagon networks from hackers who steal information or otherwise manipulate Defense Department data.

“A lot of modern and future war fighting is going to take place in these secure facilities as opposed to in forward deployed positions,” said Col. Brian Dravis, commander of the 194th Regional Support Wing, which includes the network warfare squadron.

In July, the Washington National Guard approved a plan outlining how it can assist utilities and local governments in cyber-attacks. It identified units that can help local governments take preventive measures to protect themselves, as well as soldiers who could do forensic work to identify attackers or deploy in the middle of an assault.

“We are ready to respond tonight,” Welsh said.

Officials are still working out how the National Guard can partner with other agencies for this new work.

The city of Seattle says it found too many obstacles for a realistic partnership, but they have been trying to do some projects together, said Michael Hamilton, chief of Seattle’s information security systems.

He has asked to have the National Guard’s 262nd Network Warfare Squadron test Seattle’s cyber defenses, but he couldn’t reach an agreement because the request would have to go from the governor to the Department of Homeland Security.

Hamilton is going to Camp Murray this month to help the Guard define what level of attack should trigger a call-up and response. Those terms remain unclear from leaders in the nation’s capital.

Welsh said they’re working on a new process for the governor to decide if the request meets a worthwhile use of state resources.

Intelligence-driven programs should be relatively safe as the Pentagon prepares to cut spending over the next decade. In an August visit to Naval Base Kitsap, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stressed that cyber security would remain a top priority.

That bodes well for the Washington Guard’s intelligence programs, and for the soldiers who might pursue careers in civilian cyber security after leaving the service.

“There’s 0 percent unemployment in this field,” said Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cyber Security at the University of Washington. “There’s a deficit of people in this field.”

She’s working to create a “pipeline” for service members to build on their cyber-security experience and make the transition to civilian work in the same field.

“I really want to see soldiers be able to take advantage of it and get themselves careers that have legs,” she said. “Cyber security — I don’t care how old you are — will not be solved in our lifetime.”