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NEWS | Aug. 10, 2023

Cyber Fortress 2.0 tests Virginia's cyber response plan

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia National Guard hosted Cyber Fortress 2.0 from July 10-21, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The exercise brought together state and federal organizations who will 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. “The cyber domain is one of the most complex we operate in across the whole of government and whole of industry, and almost every citizen has something tied to network operations,” said Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “We are working in the cyber domain on a routine basis, and what an exercise like Cyber Fortress should do is push us beyond the routine into the complex and get us to the point were it stresses our processes and institutions to determine how to mitigate the impacts of a potential cyber response situation.” He said it will be a combination of local, state and national responses as well as international, which coordination among commercial private partners, state and federal government and the military. “It is vital we build partner capacity through relationships and sharing best practices,” Ring said. “If you look in this room at the multi-agency and private sector partners along with the military, you can see there is unbelievable capacity to work cyber requirements. We have to ensure we are not working in stovepipes of excellence and come together in a collaborative environment to continue to build trust as well as the critical partner capacity.” Ring joined state elected officials, state and federal technology experts and public sector communication executives for distinguished visitor day July 20. As part of the VNG’s ongoing partnership with Finland, representatives from the Finnish Defence Forces also took part in the exercise and Ring recognized them for their contributions and presented them with coins. This year’s exercises focused on a cyber attack on a major telecom mission partner with participation from public and private partners from the local, state and federal level, explained Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of the VNG’s Fort Belvoir-based 91st Cyber Brigade. For the first time, the exercise tested an actual cyber-attack on a telecom training network located at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings, Indiana.  McGuire said the exercise was conducted in two phases. The first part involved decision makers participating in a tabletop exercise with the goal of testing the response of local, state and federal resources to respond to a private critical infrastructure partner.  The second phase of the exercise involved civilian private sector and National Guard cyber professionals conducting a force-on-force cyber exercise on a cyber range known as “PCTE.”   This is also the first year that cyber warriors executed Cyber Fortress on Army Cyber’s new training range known as PCTE.    “This is truly an outstanding exercise that puts our collective cyber incident response to the test,” McGuire said. “This year training was more realistic with the cyber warriors defending and attacking an actual network that controls a telecom infrastructure. Virginia is better prepared to respond to cyber-attack because of the professionals collaborating at Cyber Fortress. We are thankful to all the public, private and interagency partners coming together for the good of the commonwealth.”  Partner agencies involved in the exercise include the Army and Air National Guard, Army Reserve and Army Northern Command, state partners including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia State Police and Virginia Fusion Center and federal partners including FEMA, FBI and U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.

"Cyber Fortress 2.0 is now the third of a series of state-level infrastructure protection exercises first focused on energy and transportation, and now telecommunications," explained Shawn Talmadge, VDEM State Coordinator of Emergency Management. "We know the threat is out there, but we have significant capacity to respond when needed. I applaud the Virginia National Guard for continuing to coordinate these exercises because it is essential we continue to coordinate between our local, state and federal partners to ensure a high state of readiness to support the private sector. From Virginia’s perspective, we need to look at how we build resiliency and capacity and leverage the whole of government approach to coordinate an effective response to potential threats." VNG Soldiers assigned to the 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 cyber security teams involved in the exercise. The first Cyber Fortress exercise was conducted in Richmond in September 2022 focused on with numerous public and private sector partners including 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. At the time, it was among the first cyber exercises to involve federal and state response partners in support of a private sector entity. McGuire said planning is underway for Cyber Fortress 3.0 with the goal to increase the exercise scope and number of participants.

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