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National Guard units prepare for cyberwarfare

Active and reserve Marines at Camp Edwards, Mass., participated in Cyber Yankee 2021, an exercise to test the capabilities of the National Guard in cyberwarfare scenarios. Photo by LCpl. Mitchell Collyer/U.S. Marine Corps
Active and reserve Marines at Camp Edwards, Mass., participated in Cyber Yankee 2021, an exercise to test the capabilities of the National Guard in cyberwarfare scenarios. Photo by LCpl. Mitchell Collyer/U.S. Marine Corps

June 23 (UPI) -- A recent National Guard exercise, Cyber Yankee 2021, focused on preparing for a cyberwarfare scenario involving the compromise of critical U.S. infrastructure.

The two-week training was conducted by National Guard troops stationed across New England, offering a situation in which cyberattacks took down West Coast utilities and then moved eastward across the country.

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Private sector technology companies were involved in the exercise, which was meant to enhance the real-life approach to the simulated crisis, C4ISRNET reported.

Unlike Cyber Yankee 2020, this year's version was in-person, with the virtual involvement of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Cyber Command and civilian agencies, according to officials.

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Teams dealt with real-life malware to practice responses to threats from simulated threat actors played by active and reserve Marine Corps Defensive Cyberspace Operations-Internal Defensive Measures groups.

They also dealt with a new defensive technology, the Cyber 9-Line, a dedicated communications channel allowing National Guard units to refer potential threats to the U.S. Cyber Command.

"You're talking about, at the local level, straight connection to U.S. Cyber Command and their resources that they have," said Maj. Ryan Miler, Connecticut Army National Guard cyber operations officer.

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Legislators in Washington are urging a greater involvement of National Guard troops in the cyberwarfare domain.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. and Sen. John Corwyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation in January noting that National Guard units are capable of conducting cyber operations to protect infrastructure.

"We have seen unprecedented cyberattacks throughout the country this past year -- most notably the SolarWinds attack, but also cyberattacks on schools, hospitals, and state and local governments amid the COVID-19 pandemic," Hassan said in a statement at the time.

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"These attacks can be just as devastating as emergencies that the National Guard already provides assistance with, which is why Sen. Corwyn and I are working together across the aisle to ensure that states are able to utilize the impressive expertise that our National Guard members have in order to strengthen state and local cyber resiliency," Hassan said.

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