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Missouri Guard hosts first joint Cyber Summit

By Maj. Jeffrey Bishop | Missouri National Guard | March 16, 2017

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JEFFERSON BARRACKS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Miss. – For five days in March, the Missouri National Guard hosted some of the nation’s most advanced cyber warriors during its first Cyber Summit.

The event brought together cyber technicians from the active duty, National Guard and Reserve, as well as experts from other Federal agencies and from industry. The purpose was to share, build and learn from each other, said Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, the Adjutant General.

“Cyber isn’t the battlespace of the future – it’s happening now,” Danner said. “Our federal government has been pouring energy and resources into cyber, and has recognized the importance of the National Guard and our civilian skills to that fight. Here in Missouri, Gov. Eric Greitens has said cyber defense is critical to preserving our infrastructure and maintaining the safety of our citizens.”

Danner first established the Missouri Guard’s joint cyber protection program in 2012 with 25 Missouri Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen. It has since developed into an elite, nationally-recognized team.

Missouri’s team is made up of cyber experts with an average of 12 years apiece in the field, said Col. Maurice McKinney, director of cyber operations for the Missouri National Guard.

“Our cyber warriors have been requested not only to participate in national level exercises, but to teach other components and organizations,” McKinney said. “This summit is an outstanding opportunity for our Guardsmen not only to share knowledge, but to see how other cyber teams operate.”

Participating Federal agencies included NASA, Army Research Laboratory, Defense Information Systems Agency, and every Defense Department service and component, along with cyber specialists from business and industry, as well as public and private utilities and agriculture operators, according to Keeney. Businesses taking part in the summit included Innov8tive, HuntR, CrowdStrike, Emerson and Elastic, as well as other businesses represented through the participation of their drill-status Guardsmen on the team and at the summit.

Nearly 150 cyber-warriors from various Department of Defense Cyber Protection Teams convened to pursue development along three curriculum tracks:

  • A Talk Track, for community members to benchmark and discuss technologies and platforms for cyber defense operations;
  • A Build Track, for event planners and Missouri’s cyber team to work with participants to build, employ and automate defensive infrastructure sensors and tools – and to allow other teams to throw problems out to the community to engineer solutions on the fly; and
  • An Analysis Track, for learning how to interpret data collected via an array of various installed sensors designed to detect adversary intrusions into vital defense, government, utility, industry and service networks.

Much of the training centered on the Response Operation Collection Kit, or ROCK, a Missouri Guard built tool that leverages commercial open source sensors and analysis tools into a single cyber defense operations suite.

The workshop format built upon successes of previous training summits, along with input and feedback from those planning to attend and participate, according to Capt. Kevin Keeney, battle captain of the Missouri Joint Cyber Computer Network Defense, or MOCYBER team, and one of the lead planners for the summit.

“Along the way we took feedback and answered the call to help teams build ROCK sensors and how to do analysis of the data a ROCK sensor provides,” said Keeney, who – when he’s not leading the Missouri Guard’s cyber defense operations – directs Monsanto’s Cyber Incident Response Team. “We wanted to ensure we met the needs of the on-the-fly problem solving.”

Both the active duty and the National Guard have a valid – and needed – role in cyberspace operations, according to Keeney, who noted that Guard members can leverage their civilian roles, training, experience and expertise into their military cybersecurity roles.

“The National Guard tends to bring a lot more experience to the fight, because of the work that members do in the civilian market,” he said, but added that it’s a total-force fight that benefits from all perspectives.

“At the end of the day, everyone in the cyber fight sees a different angle of engaging the adversary. Coming together allows us to each share our own experiences: what worked and what didn't,” Keeney said. “This solves the global problem of, ‘what are the best core set of tactics?’ much faster than some committee far away from the tactical level.”

The summit was a true exchange of ideas, McKinney said.

“Ultimately, the goal is not for anyone to tell everyone else how things should be done – it is to share best practices so we can all strengthen the nation’s cyber defenses,” McKinney said. “Protecting our infrastructure, intelligence and other critical assets isn’t just a question of bombs and bullets anymore. In today’s environment, the most effective warrior on a battlefield may be sitting at a computer console.”