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National Guard from around the country are in Hampton Roads for cyber exercise

People in military uniforms sit in front of computers.
Steve Walsh
Troops from the Virginia National Guard participate in a Cyber Shield exercise in Virginia Beach.

This story was reported by WHRO News.

For the past week, hundreds of National Guard troops from 28 states and several countries have been working behind banks of computers at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach.

It might not look like it, but they're under attack.

Cyber Shield, the largest military cyber training exercise in the U.S., is being hosted in Virginia for the first time. The exercise simulates an assault on a private network, like a power company or internet provider.

Col. Rusty McGuire, commander of the 91st Cyber Brigade, compared the effort to an infantry field exercise.
“Instead of going out in the woods, we do those same war games, but they're on a cyber range,” he said. “So, you have blue force and red force, and they're just going after, defending and attacking networks to work on those skills."

The National Guard's only federal cyber brigade is headquartered at Fort Belvoir — south of Washington D.C. The unit is run by McGuire, who is with the Virginia National Guard. The unit defends Department of Defense systems around the world from hackers.

“We can't really talk much about those missions,” McGuire said. “Most of the stuff that we do is classified, but just understand that this is a type of unit where we do two primary missions. We do what's called 'defensive cyber operations' and then we do 'offensive cyber operations.'”

The Guard has become increasingly active in countering cyber attacks during the past decade. Virginia created its first cyber unit in 2017, as other states began setting up their own. At the state level, units will often respond to attacks on private companies.

“Often, they can get involved to help those private industry partners recover and defend their infrastructure,” said Lt. Erin Rosenmund, of the Delaware National Guard.

Cyber Shield looks at near-peer competitors like China and Russia, which have been linked to numerous attacks on infrastructure in the United States and its allies.

The exercises continue through Friday.


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