The Idaho National Guard is well-known for providing emergency assistance during floods, fires and other disasters. It will soon add computer hacking protection to its mission.
The Idaho Air National Guard has been selected as one of six Air Guard units and 13 Army Guard units nationwide to help protect military and civilian government computer systems. Gov. Butch Otter announced the mission Monday during his State of the State speech.
"That means personnel trained to military standards in the latest and most advanced technology will be helping detect and stop online attacks before they damage our cyberspace capabilities," Otter said during his speech to lawmakers.
Last year, Otter created a cybersecurity task force — headed by Lt. Gov. Brad Little — to develop strategies for helping to protect against the growing threat of hackers gaining access to state computer systems. The governor's proposed budget includes $1 million to create to create a cybersecurity program at Boise State University, in conjunction with the Idaho National Laboratory.
Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the goal for the cyber units is to "train, equip and provide highly skilled forces responsive to the needs of the nation."
Maj. Gen. Gary Sayler, commander of the Idaho National Guard, welcomed the new mission, which will include 71 Air Guard members, including 15 who will have full-time jobs. Idaho's cyber squadron is set to be funded in fiscal year 2017.
"This decision to house a cyber squadron in Idaho is based on the caliber of our personnel and the dedication and track record of protecting Idaho and our nation," Sayler said in a statement. "The Idaho Air National Guard's unique placement within our community makes us the perfect fit for the mission."
By 2019, 23 states are expected to have Air Guard or Army Guard cyber units in operation. Governors in those states will be able to call on the squadrons to provide cyber protection for their networks. States without their own squadrons will be able to enter into compacts with other states to provide the same service.
"We want to try to have a cyber capability in every state," Grass told the Department of Defense News last year.
Since 2012, the National Guard has conducted a three-week cyber Guard exercise. Last summer, the exercise was held in Suffolk, Va., and it revolved around a simulated major earthquake in Southern California followed by coordinated cyberattacks that disrupted electrical power on both the West Coast and East Coast.
The simulated attacks affected banks, oil and gas pipelines and a major commercial port in the United Kingdom. They also led to ATM failures and food shortages.
More than 1,000 people, including active-duty, National Guard and Reserve units, along with members of more than 100 organizations representing government, academia, industry and an international coalition, took part in the exercise.