NEWS | July 27, 2021

Joint Training Reinforces Cyber Defense

By Sgt. 1st Class Mireille Merilice-Roberts Oklahoma National Guard

NORMAN, Okla. -- Soldiers with the Oklahoma National Guard defensive cyber operations element, in partnership with team members from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Management Enterprise Services, conducted joint training at the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center, July 10-23.

Cyber Shield 21, an annual training exercise, focused on identifying and defending against cyber threats that compromise local and national security. The training brought together more than 750 of the nation’s top cyber defense professionals from the National Guard and industry partners. This year is the first year for the OKNG to partner and train alongside state agencies.

“Success for the Oklahoma National Guard would be to operate and maintain a DCOE that can rapidly respond to cyber threats,”Capt. Danny Slusarchuck, DCOE chief, said. “OMES and OSBI put analysts on our team for the exercise allowing us to work on forensic analysis, creating relationships and interagency lines of communication that we did not otherwise have.”

The joint exercise tested each team on network defensive measures and cyber incident response to highlight limitations and strengths.

“The main threat to Oklahoma and the U.S. right now are cyber-attacks,” OSBI Lt. Michael Dean, fusion center director, said. “They are an everyday occurrence and it’s going to take a group effort. The motto of the OSBI is ‘one team, one mission’ and that’s not just the bureau. It’s going to take a team to combat cyber-crimes.”

According to a PBS.org article, “Why ransomware attacks are on the rise — and what can be done to stop them,” cyber-attacks are increasing and becoming more high-profile. They added that cyber-attacks in North America rose 158 percent alone. One growing concern is the direct impact and devastation of critical infrastructures such as energy, transportation and communication.

“Like the Colonial pipeline attack, these are things that may be conducted on an international scale, but they affect the smallest local community,” said John Phillips, incident response manager, OMES. “If something like this happened around the power grid there could potentially be loss-of-life.”

At the authorization and direction of the governor, a DCOE would activate and work in partnership with local agencies if ever deployed for a state emergency related to cyber defense.

“This training is so beneficial to the guard because cyber threats are on the rise and within the state of Oklahoma,” said Slusarchuck. “Our DCOE can deploy if the governor needs us to support state agencies, critical infrastructure, or private entities.”

To conclude the training event each team was scored on practical exercises. Oklahoma, the 2020 NetWars Cyber Shield winner, received high marks all scenarios.

“These guys are constantly vigilant,” said Jenna Odgers, criminal intelligence analyst, OMES. “They are doing a lot, and it’s reassuring to know as a civilian that there are capabilities like this if anything were to happen.”

The Oklahoma National Guard continues to train and prepare to provide a highly skilled force in support the state and nation’s mission when called upon.