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RALEIGH, N.C. -- What do major online and storefront retail giants, federal and state government agencies and national banks/financial institutions have in common? They all have suffered malicious cyber attacks over the past several years.
Cyber intrusions and attacks expose sensitive personal and business information and disrupt essential operations, negatively affecting business and the economy.
Contrasting many government programs, cyber defense is growing in its budget and personnel. The North Carolina National Guard stands poised, ready and capable to support the National Guard Bureau's intent to stand up multiple Cyber Protection Teams, in support of U.S. Cyber Command's Cyber Mission Forces.
Over the past five years, the North Carolina National Guard, or NCNG, has built an impressive group of information technology, known as IT, professionals that make up its Joint Cyber Defense Team.
"We have over 30 Soldiers and Airmen with a unique blend of private industry and military IT experience and training," said North Carolina Air Guard's Lt. Col. Anthony Sullins, officer in charge of the Joint Cyber Defense Team. "We have a seasoned team with the skills and experience required to quickly stand up operational units that will effectively assess and protect networks from malicious actors."
Across the country, states are augmenting their computer network defense teams with other personnel to build more robust cyber teams. In most cases these additional personnel and resources are from other departments within the state, or as many call it "taking it out of hide," which is one of the main reasons many states are vying for Cyber Protection Team selection.
Sullins stated that the vast majority of N.C. Guard's cyber team members work as IT specialists in a wide range of state, national and international industries and corporations. Many of these members also have advanced network security certifications including Certified Penetration Tester, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Information Systems Auditor, as well as relevant training in incident response and intrusion analysis.
"A distinct characteristic of N.C. Guard's cyber team is its deep bench of experienced industry professionals," said Capt. Robert Felicio, a 15-year cyber defense expert and North Carolina National Guard cyber team member. "North Carolina's robust financial sector in Charlotte, our university system's research and development programs and Raleigh-Durham's Research Triangle Park, with its cutting edge bio-medical, engineering, software, data systems and networking firms, breeds a quality of IT professional rarely seen in other locations in the U.S. We regularly recruit from, train and collaborate with this remarkable local talent pool."
The results of this local talent pool are evident in the team's exceptional performance in recent cyber training events.
N.C. Guard's Joint Cyber Defense Team along with 300 Soldiers, Airmen and civilians from 35 states and territories, participated in Cyber Shield this spring. The exercise was designed to challenge teams with real-world scenarios where their networks were maliciously attacked again and again.
In July, the team participated in US Cyber Command's Cyber Guard exercise at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Cyber Guard was the largest exercise of its kind composed of international partners, active duty, National Guard, reserves, National Security Agency, and U.S. Cyber Command teams performed their cyber missions in support of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. The scenarios revolved around response to foreign-based attacks on government and privately owned critical infrastructure networks while promoting collaboration and information sharing across all levels of government.
In both exercises, evaluators ranked the North Carolina in the top tier of participating teams.
The same way governors may call their National Guard force to respond to natural disasters, National Guard cyber teams stand ready to answer the call for a cyber emergency. Teams support federal, state, and critical infrastructure networks by providing proactive network security assessments, and if necessary, actively protect those networks when requested during a time of emergency.
"The Joint Cyber Defense Team assembled in the NCNG is a highly-trained, dedicated and motivated group of quiet professionals," said Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, adjutant general of North Carolina. "They protect and defend our information networks and communications systems across the state, every hour of every day, and stand ready to assist other state and federal agencies and others that are part of our critical infrastructure."
NCNG's cyber team supported the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, and has traveled to Moldova and Romania on several occasions, providing to network security information sharing with former eastern-bloc countries as part of European Command's efforts to increase cyber security awareness with these potential partners. The team also has a strong relationship with North Carolina's Office of the Chief Information Officer and other state agencies.
"The Cyber Shield and Cyber Guard exercises validated our team's capabilities and expertise as network defenders," said Sullins. "Every time we work with other Guard, civilian, state and federal cyber organizations, we become better at our jobs, thereby keeping us ready and responsive to future cyber incidents. Without a doubt, the NCNG is poised and ready to become a formally recognized member of the Cyber Protection enterprise."