- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cyber squads administered by the National Guard are now scheduled to be operating in 23 states across the country by 2020 as the Defense Department ramps-up its efforts to protect military and government computer networks inside America’s borders.

The National Guard said last week it plans to activate 13 new cyber units by the end of fiscal year 2019 while further plans are drawn up to ensure that personnel are eventually in place from coast-to-coast to promptly respond to any potential computer incidents or intrusions.

Seven new Army Guard Cyber Protection Teams, or CPTs, will be activated over four years across Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, the National Guard said.

The Air Guard, in partnership with the Air Force, will activate an additional four new Cyber Operations Squadrons in Idaho, Michigan, Texas and Virginia.

In tandem with previously announced teams in California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio, the cyber squads will be trained to tackle computer problems on government and Defense Department networks at the drop of a hat before any issues have to be escalated further.

“Our goal for cyber defense is to train, equip and provide highly-skilled forces responsive to the needs of the nation,” Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a statement. “Working with the Army and Air Force, our cyber squadrons and teams will provide trained and ready Soldiers and airmen to support requirements established by the services and U.S. Cyber Command.”

Once the new squadrons are fully operational, the National Guard will have a cyber presence in each of the country’s 10 response regions that are monitored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Each CPT will be comprised of 39 Guard Soldiers, and will “carry out the National Guard’s mission of assisting in domestic emergency responses,” the agency said in a statement.

“This is the beginning,” added Air Force Col. Kelly Hughes, the chief of the Space and Cyber Warfare Operations Division at the Air National Guard Readiness Center. “This is a massive amount of force structure the Guard has laid into this mission, but this is just the first layer.”

In a cyber strategy released by the Defense Department earlier this year, Pentagon officials noted that the National Guard and other reserve components must be used as “a resource for expertise and to foster creative solutions to cybersecurity problems.”

“The Reserve Component offers a unique capability for supporting each of DoD’s missions, including for engaging the defense industrial base and the commercial sector. It represents DoD’s critical surge capacity for cyber responders,” the strategy reads in part.

Congress, meanwhile, included portions this week of a contentious cybersecurity proposal, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, into an omnibus spending plan that if approved will fund the government through the next fiscal year.

Although the National Guard’s cyber teams will only work with government-affiliated networks, passage of the cyber-sharing bill would incentivize private companies to provide federal agencies with details about hack attacks in hopes of giving the government an advantage over hackers attempting to infiltrate U.S. networks.

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