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Pennsylvania Guard cyber branch supports primary election

By Sgt. Zane Craig | Pennsylvania National Guard | May 23, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard joined other state partners at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) May 21 to reassure voters of the security of the commonwealth's primary election.

"Your National Guard works every day to ensure that we have multiple layers of security in place to monitor and assess any potential vulnerabilities, to implement the necessary safeguards, to share resources and information, and to practice our response plans," said Col. Frank Montgomery, director of military support. "We train with our fellow state agencies to prepare for every election held within the state, and are thankful that they include us as part of the common defense."

According to Maj. Christine Pierce, Pennsylvania cyber branch chief, with the prominence of the potential for election interference and prominent cybersecurity failures in the news, it's vital for commonwealth residents to feel confident in the electoral system's integrity.

Since 2016, the Pennsylvania National Guard cyber branch has partnered with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and expanded to working with the private sector, colleges and universities, and a range of agencies at the local, state and federal levels.

Pierce leads a team of nine, several of whom are currently in Lithuania providing cybersecurity assistance during that nation's presidential election.
Several Pennsylvania National Guard intelligence personnel are augmenting the cybersecurity efforts at PEMA by analyzing social media and other data to form a broader picture concerning potential cyber threats and the spread of misinformation online.

"Being on site here at PEMA, ready to respond to anything, and having worked on the preparation phases leading up to the election, we know the systems, we've worked with the systems, and we're here and ready to respond if necessary," said Pierce.

The field of cybersecurity is relatively new in the military, and Pierce said the field will need to grow rapidly in the near future to meet the growing demand and the increasing range of threats to our nation's network infrastructure within the military and in state and local governments.

This election marks the first time the Department of State, the lead agency, has staged election day operations at PEMA. Other agencies involved include the Department of State, Office of Homeland Security, PEMA, Governor's Office, Pennsylvania State Police, Office of Administration, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Office of State Inspector General.

"Everyone is very supportive and appreciative of the extra help, and they trust us. We've been working together and building relationships for a while, so we have a great working relationship across the agencies," said Pierce.

The Pennsylvania National Guard is always ready to ensure the safety and security of all Pennsylvanians and to support our partners in state government.