Soldiers working on computers in lab area.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Reynolds, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Ohio Army National Guard personnel with Detachment 2, U.S. Army Cyber Protection Team 172 work during the unit’s validation as part of Cyber Shield 20, Sept. 17, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. The annual Cyber Shield is underway on networks across the nation as over 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from more than 40 states signed in for the virtual training exercise, which runs Sept. 12-27, designed to sharpen their skills as network defenders.

Video by Staff Sgt. George Davis, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Cyber Shield 2020 features fully virtual training exercise during COVID-19 pandemic

Story by Staff Sgt. George Davis, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (09/23/20)

Cyber Shield 2020 is underway on networks across the nation as over 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from more than 40 states signed in for virtual training designed to sharpen their skills as network defenders.

Cyber Shield, which runs Sept. 12-27 this year, is a defensively focused tactical cyber exercise hosted annually by the Army National Guard, with assistance from the Air National Guard. The exercise was conceived in cooperation with industry network owners and law enforcement agency partners to ensure it meets the demands of defending the nation’s at-risk information infrastructures.

“This year has presented a number of challenges for Cyber Shield,” said George Battistelli, Cyber Shield 20 exercise director and chief of the information technology, security, compliance and readiness division for the Army National Guard. “Obviously the big change to the exercise this year is the virtual environment. COVID-19 forced us to go virtual this year. We have had to change some plans, but for the most part, we maintained the same challenging and rewarding exercise that has kept participants coming back each year.”

Week one of the exercise focused on offering world-class cyberdefense industry training, conducted by leading technology companies such as Microsoft, SANS Institute of Technology, Focal Point Academy, California Polytechnic State University and the International Society of Automation. The training included classroom and practical exercises in subjects such as cyberthreat analysis, systems analysis, information control systems and information operations.

“Training week is probably one of the highlights of Cyber Shield,” said Col. Teri Williams, officer in charge of Cyber Shield 2020. “We bring in some of the top vendors across the country to provide the training to the individuals. A lot of times the states don’t have the ability to contract some of the real high-end vendors. So this exercise gives us the ability to get Soldiers and Airmen the training that they otherwise would not get in their individual states.”

State cyber teams become blue (friendly forces) teams for exercise week and are required to conduct cyberincident response and network defense operations. Cyber Shield provides a tactical, scenario-based training network, complete with opposition forces and network owner role players. This year’s exercise offers a first-of-its kind cyber range developed by National Guard cyberprofessionals for National Guard cyberprofessionals.

It is a trial by fire for the nation’s newest cyber training infrastructure. Accommodating the virtual aspects of this year’s Cyber Shield has been a great challenge. However, it should also prove greatly rewarding to the cyber community of the National Guard.

“Most likely the future of cyberincident response is having to execute incident response in a remote environment for a dispersed organization,” said Williams, who commands the Virginia Army National Guard’s 91st Cyber Brigade and works full-time as the chief information officer for the Ohio Army National Guard. “All of the different actions that we go through prepare us for that future, from organizing the communications platforms to getting everyone on the range. Typically we really think about training the participants, but I think this year, both the staff and the participants are getting a tremendous amount of training.”

Cyber Shield is a result of the National Guard’s commitment to stand in defense of critical infrastructure against the growing threat of malicious cyberattacks. As a result of this annual exercise, National Guard cyberdefenders are better prepared to stand as another line of defense in this critical warfighting domain.