RICHMOND, Va. – Approximately 20 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen took part in the Cyber Fortress exercise with public 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 organizations.
“The Cyber Fortress Exercise bought together the organizations who will actually respond in a real-world cyber incident and provided an opportunity to test Virginia’s cyber response plan and better prepare for future collective responses,” said Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, VNG director of the Joint Staff.
“The professionalism with these partners is demonstrated by the ability to execute a statewide exercise in less than 10 months from concept to execution,” Ring said. “Virginia is better prepared to defend from future cyberattacks because of the partnerships established or improved in Cyber Fortress.”
Ring said Cyber Fortress also validated the Guard’s ability to support private sector critical infrastructure partners providing services to people across the commonwealth.
VNG Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 91st Cyber Brigade, the Fairfax-based Information Operations Support Center and the Richmond-based Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia Defense Cyber Operations Element and VNG Airmen assigned to the 185th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, 192nd Operations Group, 192nd Wing at Joint Base Langley Eustis supported the event and were integrated into other cybersecurity teams involved in the exercise.
“We have a lot to be proud of today,” said Shawn Talmadge, VDEM state coordinator of emergency management. “This is among the first cyber exercises involving federal and state response partners in support of a private sector entity.
“We know the threat is real and incredibly capable,” he said. “From Virginia’s perspective, we need to look at how we build resiliency and capacity and leverage the whole of government approach to support a private sector.”
Talmadge said the exercise was an opportunity to test Virginia’s cybersecurity plan, identify gaps, and look at how to deploy state resources like the National Guard.
He said future exercises would focus on other critical infrastructure capabilities like transportation or communication.
“The Virginia National Guard benefits from collaborating with public and private partners to reduce the impact of a cyber event on the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of the 91st Cyber Brigade and co-director of the exercise.
McGuire said Cyber Fortress was a great example of how the VNG works with state leaders and critical infrastructure partners to benefit all Virginians.
“Not only is the VNG prepared to respond to floods and snowstorms, but the VNG is prepared to assist with the same level of support in a cybersecurity incident,” McGuire said.
McGuire said with cyber attacks increasing and becoming more sophisticated, it is more important than ever to bring federal and state agencies and the private sector together to protect critical infrastructure.
“Fifty years ago, a foreign actor could not touch critical infrastructure in the United States without major resources,” McGuire said. “Now, with off-the-shelf capabilities, the virtual doorstep to critical infrastructure networks are just a mouse click away for bad actors. This requires a private-public approach to bring all available resources to defend critical networks, and that is what we did with Cyber Fortress.”
The tabletop exercise enabled senior leaders to discuss processes and policies, while the multiday portion focused on teams of military and civilian cyber specialists contending with a simulated cyber attack.
“A critical piece of our overall converged security framework is effective partnerships with our government partners,” said Adam Lee, chief security officer for Dominion Energy. “I believe that in order to properly secure American critical infrastructure, you have to train with government agencies, which would respond in the event of a significant cyberattack. Cyber Fortress enabled us to lift our relationships to the next level.”
McGuire said planning has already begun for the next installment of Cyber Fortress. He said the VNG has also partnered with the U.S. Army Cyber Institute and Norwich University Applied Research Institutes to develop the tabletop portion of the exercise.