MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia and North Carolina National Guard and representatives from state and federal agencies fielded a U.S. team in the world’s largest international cyber defense exercise, run virtually by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, April 19-21.
Locked Shields, a CCDCOE annual exercise since 2010, enables cyber security experts to enhance their skills in defending national IT systems and critical infrastructure under real-time attacks. The focus is on realistic scenarios, cutting-edge technologies and simulating the entire complexity of a massive cyber incident, including strategic decision-making, legal and communication aspects.
This year, there were 24 friendly Blue Teams competing in Locked Shields from countries throughout the world. The 2,000 participants took on the role of national cyber rapid reaction teams deployed to assist their fictional country in handling a large-scale cyber incident.
“There were two major accomplishments during this exercise this year. First, we enhanced the interoperability and relationships of civilian and government cyber defenders, and second, we developed the skills of the future cyber workforce that are currently studying at universities,” said Maj. Bill Keber, U.S. Blue Team lead.
Exercise participants were graded on how well they protected their networks while following the established rules of engagement for gameplay.
The West Virginia-led U.S. team finished 15th overall.
The 30 participants from the West Virginia National Guard included West Virginia’s Army Interagency Training and Education Center’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Battalion Mission Assurance specialists, legal specialists, cyber threat analysts, and public affairs experts.
The North Carolina National Guard provided one Soldier, Maj. Ben Downing, an expert in the 5G arena.
“I was incredibly impressed by the members of my team during the Locked Shields exercise,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ian Frist, a combat medic with the 197th Regional Training Institute. “I had military members as well as students, and it was an incredible experience to watch such a diverse group come together in a short amount of time and perform so well during the exercise. I think Locked Shields showcased the unique capabilities the National Guard is able to bring to the cyber battlefront.
“The National Guard is able to leverage drill status Guardsmen Soldiers like me who work in the civilian cybersecurity industry,” he said. “Living in both worlds gives me an incredibly unique perspective on cybersecurity operations that I felt was indispensable during the exercise.”
The U.S. Blue Team included students from West Virginia University, Marshall University and West Virginia University Institute of Technology in academic tracks ranging from engineering to cybersecurity, media and law.
“The partnership and collaboration between higher education and DISA to support the Locked Shields exercise is invaluable,” said Scott Fleming, a dean at WVU Institute of Technology. “Through simulations that require multiple skill sets, we can help improve preparedness from a reactionary to proactive posture, and we can only accomplish this through activities such as this.”
Additional participants included the Defense Information Systems Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Financial Services and Information Sharing and Analysis Center, U.S. Treasury, and Bank of America.
“Our National Guard members and the entire U.S. Locked Shields team stepped up the challenge this year for the exercise,” said Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, West Virginia adjutant general. “I have no doubt that our service members and agency partners gained invaluable experience in the cyber realm over the last week through the collaboration and expertise in the room. Our West Virginia National Guard members punch well above their weight class when it comes to cyber, and I could not be more proud of what they showcased during Locked Shields.”