WASHINGTON - Many people are unaware of the full scope of cyber security challenges facing the nation and the National Guard is part of the solution.
Those were among the messages that emerged from a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nominee to be the next commander of U.S. Cyber Command on Tuesday.
"The Guard can play a huge role," Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the current chief of USCYBERCOM told Congress in 2013. "It gives us additional capacity that we may need in a cyber conflict. … It also provides us an ability to work with the states."
On Tuesday, Navy Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, the president's nominee to replace Alexander, told senators he agrees.
"U.S. Cyber Command currently has an ongoing series of exercises designed to exercise with Guard units in the cyber arena," Rogers said, adding that the USCYBERCOM also is talking with governors and adjutants general about how to maximize cyber capability. "We've got to maximize that capability," he said.
Tuesday's hearing highlighted the scope of the cyber challenge. Also testifying was Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the nominee to command U.S. Transportation Command. USTRANSCOM provides an illustration of the extent of the cyber challenge: It relies on commercial partners' unclassified civilian networks to exchange a significant percentage of its information and in 2012 faced about 100,000 attempted attacks on its networks, according to committee testimony.
Government and public and private businesses and individuals all face cyber intrusions, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard, discussing whether cyber attacks are analogous to conventional warfare attacks, because of the personal and economic harm they can inflict.
"We face a growing array of cyber threats from foreign intelligence services, terrorists, criminal groups and hacktivists, who are increasing their capability to steal, manipulate or destroy information and networks in a manner that risks compromising our personal and national security," Rogers told Congress.
Even with budget constraints, cyber capabilities are one of the few areas targeted for growth by the Defense Department, Rogers noted.
Because of their civilian-acquired skills, National Guard members offer valuable capabilities, training, education and abilities for cyber missions, the committee heard.
"Cyber will be an element of almost any crisis we are going to see in the future," Rogers said.
The National Guard has longstanding relationships with public and private cyber-related organizations in the more than 3,000 communities where the Guard is based.