LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas –
In the early 2000s the Defense Department and the National Guard Bureau came to the quick realization that cyber threats were on the rise and attack frequencies were only going to become more prominent within the U.S. and abroad. In fact, the number of cyber threat actors increased in unimaginable numbers in which their methods of attacking became more dynamic and complex. In response, the Virginia National Guard activated the 91st Cyber Brigade in 2017.
The Fort Belvoir-based 91st Cyber Brigade is the first and only Army National Guard Cyber Brigade in the country. The brigade’s five Cyber Protection Battalions each employ two Cyber Protection Teams whose primary mission is Defensive Cyberspace Operations. All CPTs within the brigade have been validated against U.S. Cyber Command standards. The teams perform annual recertifications conducted by the 169th CPT, an all-Active Guard and Reserve CPT which falls directly under the 91st Cyber Brigade.
Although there are prescribed standards to conduct CPT evaluations, there are no defined standards to conduct evaluations for their higher battalion headquarters. Because of this, the 91st Cyber Brigade began evaluations of battalion staff utilizing the Battalion Commander’s Mission Essential Task List in 2022.
Army Cyber Command, along with leadership from the 91st Brigade chose Cyber Shield 2023 as the perfect opportunity to recertify the 179th CPT. The recertification is a requirement that a CPT must perform every two years. For the 179th CPT, this recertification enables the team lead the opportunity to evaluate the proficiency of their team.
“To meet recertification requirements, the 179th must demonstrate that they are able to effectively hunt and clear malicious cyber activity from a DOD network, as well as enable hardening and further assessment of the affected environment,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 William Bayse, cyber warfare technician for the 91st Brigade.
This year, the 91st Brigade brought more than 200 Soldiers to participate in Cyber Shield. The brigade took positive control of the process June 2, 2023, in place of U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey Fleming and his Cyber Shield plans team.
The 124th CPB plays an important role this year in which their joint staff is taking part in the evaluation process.
“The 169th CPT will be evaluating the 179th this year, here at Cyber Shield,” said U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Perham, training officer for the 91st BDE. “[The 179th] will be evaluated based on the battalion's mission essential tasks but the battalion staff is also being evaluated on their staff actions.”
For the Cyber Shield planners, this is an annual event that ensures that the CPT teams can meet the enemy threat with the most recent and most relevant knowledge of the cyber dimension available. For the 91st BDE leadership, Cyber Shield is the culminating event that allows for re-evaluation of their yearly training plan for the battalion's.
“Specialization is key,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keith Roberson, assigned to the 91st Brigade. “Cybersecurity is a massive field. Teams would do well to be extremely deliberate about finding required niches and ensuring that they align with the talents found within their formations.”
Although the data is not concise, it is estimated that around 2,200 cyberattacks occur per day, which equates to more than 800,000 people being hacked per year, costing the U.S. more than $6 trillion in 2022. These attacks often cripple the operations of businesses, corporations, and industries across the U.S. The 91st uses this vital information to stay driven in their training and remain focused on deterring future attacks.
“We hope Cyber Shield not only helps us evaluate our different battalions,” said U.S. Army Col. Russell McGuire, 91st Cyber Brigade commander. “We hope that [Cyber Shield] better prepares us for the mission to support the defense of cyberspace operations.”
(Co-writer: Army Sgt. Hannah Tarkelly)