RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 20 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen participated 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.
“Exercise Cyber Fortress brought together organizations that would actually respond to 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, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Professionalism with these partners is demonstrated by the ability to execute a nationwide exercise in less than 10 months from concept to execution,” Ring said. “Virginia is better prepared to defend against future cyberattacks because of the partnerships created or enhanced at Cyber Fortress.”
Ring said Cyber Fortress also validated the Guard’s ability to support private sector critical infrastructure partners that provide services to people across the Commonwealth.
VNG Soldiers assigned to Fort Belvoir’s 91st Cyber Brigade, Information Operations Support Center Fairfax and Richmond-based Joint Forces Headquarters – Virginia Defense Cyber Operations Unit and VNG aircraft assigned to the 185th Cyber Operations Squadron, 192nd Operations Group, Joint Base Langley Eustis The 192nd Wing supported the event and was integrated with other cyber security teams participating in the exercise.
“We have a lot to be proud of today,” said Sean Talmadge, VDEM’s state emergency management coordinator. “This is one of the first cyber exercises involving federal and state response partners to support 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 resilience and capacity and use a whole-of-government approach to support the private sector.”
Talmadge said the exercise was an opportunity to test Virginia’s cybersecurity plan, identify gaps and explore how to deploy state resources such as the National Guard.
Future exercises will focus on other critical infrastructure options, such as transportation or communications, he said.
“The Virginia National Guard benefits from working with public and private partners to reduce the impact of a cyber event on the Commonwealth’s citizens,” said Col. Rusty McGuire, 91st Cyber Brigade commander and exercise co-director.
McGuire said Cyber Fortress is a great example of how VNG is working with state leaders and critical infrastructure partners to benefit all Virginians.
“Not only is VNG ready to respond to floods and snowstorms, but VNG is ready to assist with the same level of support in a cybersecurity incident,” McGuire said.
As cyberattacks grow and become more sophisticated, it’s more important than ever for federal and state agencies and the private sector to come together to protect critical infrastructure, McGuire said.
“Fifty years ago, a foreign actor could not touch critical infrastructure in the United States without significant resources,” McGuire said. “Now, with the capabilities already available, the virtual threshold for critical infrastructure networks is just a mouse click away from bad actors. This requires a private and public approach to provide all available resources to protect critical networks, which is what we did with Cyber Fortress.
The tabletop exercise allowed senior leaders to discuss processes and policies, while a multi-day segment focused on teams of military and civilian cyber specialists dealing with a simulated cyber attack.
“A critical component of our overall converged security system is effective partnerships with our government partners,” said Adam Lee, Dominion Energy’s chief security officer. “I believe that properly securing America’s critical infrastructure requires lessons learned from government agencies that would respond in the event of a major cyber attack. Cyber Fortress allowed us to take our relationship to the next level.
MacGyver said planning for the next part of Cyber Fortress has already begun. VNG has also partnered with the US Army Cyber Institute and Norwich University’s Applied Research Institutes to develop the training desk component, he said.