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Maryland National Guard, European Partners Protect Network Security

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Thomas Lamb

LAUREL, Md. - The Maryland Army National Guard’s 169th Cyber Protection Team, Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Operation Support Squadron and members of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AFBiH) participated in a joint cybersecurity seminar June 29.

Army Brig. Gen. Adam Flasch, the director of the Joint Staff, Maryland National Guard, observed the exercise at the Pvt. Henry Costin Readiness Center in Laurel and spoke with Soldiers and AFBiH members, highlighting the importance of cyber military capabilities.

“Everyone is a near-peer competitor in cyber,” said Flasch. “Our job is to make sure that not only are our networks protected but that our partner’s networks are robust and capable of repelling attacks. And, when attacked, to remediate and return back to as much normalcy as possible as quickly as possible.”

Beginning in August 2018, the 169th CPT has supported military-to-military knowledge transfers and team-building events with the AFBiH. The Maryland National Guard has been a partner with Bosnia and Herzegovina for nearly 30 years via the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.

The unit is helping to assess the AFBiH network infrastructure and create a secure, defendable network.

“We’re going to be working towards getting their SOPs together, filling their playbooks with procedures and helping them understand the strategic part of [cybersecurity],” said Warrant Officer Marcus Vendittuoli, project lead for the SPP event with 169th CPT.

Part of the plan is to develop an incident response plan instructing network users and cyber professionals how to respond when something strange starts happening on their computer or network. 

“If somebody recognizes their computer is rebooting all by itself, or something like that, you’re going to execute the incident response plan,” said Chief Warrant Officer James Stahecki, 169th CPT. “At that point, the defenders will take steps to find out what’s happening and secure the network.”

Civilian and military organizations are frequently the targets of cyber attacks. These attacks can leak personal information, hold systems hostage for ransom or even remotely control certain aspects of the system. The risks to an organization are high, so everyone in an organization has to be a sensor and point out abnormalities. The 169th CPT works with many organizations to help improve their cyber preparedness.

“Anything that we do where we integrate with our partners — both Estonia, a NATO ally, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as they seek NATO consideration — that interaction is more than just the technical skills being transferred,” said Flasch. “It’s the shared experience of Soldiers and Airmen as they work with their counterparts. The information shared goes both ways and we get to see what each other deals with on a daily basis.”

The 169th CPT was established in 2017 to bring a more secure cyber program to the Maryland National Guard. Its primary mission is to help validate other cyber protection teams around the world. This includes supporting exercises such as Cyber Shield and Cyber Flag and working with Maryland’s State Partnership Program partners in AFBiH and the Estonian Defense Forces.