A cyber-attack is invisible, can be undeterred by boundaries, and
extremely dangerous. The possibilities for damage are endless.
Attacks can range from small annoyances to catastrophic damage to
loss of life and property.
Cyber security is the protection
of computers, networks, programs and data from unintended or
unauthorized access, change or destruction. It has been a concern
for Colorado National Guard leadership, proactively defending
against potential vulnerabilities, since the late 1990s for Y2K.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rhodes is the commander of Cyber Protection
Team 174 and the Defensive Cyber Operations Element of the Colorado
Army National Guard. He is recruiting personnel to fill positions in
One of 10 teams across the U.S., CPT 174 is a
39-person National Guard element, shared with Utah, North Dakota,
and South Dakota. Colorado is home to the command headquarters and
the inspection team. “Our stated mission is to be the first military
responder for major cyber incidents in FEMA [Federal Emergency
Management Agency] Region 8,” Rhodes said. “Teams from each area can
act as attackers, defenders, inspectors or hunters who seek out the
February 12, 2017 - Chief Warrant Officer 2 Johnston (first name
removed for security), of the Colorado National Guard's Defensive
Cyber Operations Element, provides a briefing to the Joint Task
Force - Centennial, about what the Vital Connection cyber exercise
tests for and the overall process, at the Regis University training
center in Greenwood Village, Colorado. (U.S. Air National Guard
photo by Maj. Darin Overstreet)
The DCOE team defends against local attacks on Department
of Defense networks supporting CONG Soldiers and Airmen. The
governor can also call upon the 10-person team to assist
with defensive cyber operations during an incident affecting
the state, when civilian assets are unavailable or
Rhodes emphasized how partnerships are
important to cyber programs.
“We work with groups
that are in charge of important organizations and
infrastructure,” Rhodes said. “Some organizations only think
of cyber protection when they experience a significant
problem or breach. We want a secure community that is
leading the way.”
For example, the CONG participated
in a cyber security exercise with Regis University Feb.
11-12, 2017, at the Regis campus in Greenwood Village,
The exercise, which increased interagency
coordination efforts, involved a critical infrastructure
protection scenario, where one of the state’s 1,738 dams
experienced a malicious cyber-attack.
divided into two teams; one team acted as the hackers and
the other defended against attacks. During the afternoon,
the teams switched roles, so that they could experience both
perspectives. The teams included instructors and students
from Regis University, CONG information technology
specialists, employees of private and public companies, and
industry experts who provided guidance along the way.
“The realistic exercise made it clear that this is
something that could potentially happen,” said U.S. Air
Force Tech. Sgt. Shugg, an information technology specialist
from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 233rd Space Group.
“It gave us the perspective of the attacker, which is very
important when trying to defend a system.”
Lt. Col. Martinez, the CONG director of joint IT and
communications, emphasized how important trust is for those
within the industry.
“This was a great opportunity
for us to build relationships, because IT is all about
trust; you have to trust someone before you are going to
allow them to do anything on your network,” he said. “This
exercise allows the partner organizations to build that
Mr. Clark, an IT manager at Northern Water in
Berthoud, Colorado, said he participated in the exercise so
that he can contribute to the betterment of his
organization’s cyber security plan. ”The scenarios were very
educational,” he said.
Rhodes said, “It’s an
extremely rewarding experience to work in cyber for the
military. If you come to cyber, you will get significant
professional certifications and experience, making you
extremely marketable, and you get to work in the cutting
edge of the industry.”
“We’ve had people come to us
from unexpected fields — Special Forces, aviators, etc.,”
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Cobert said. Cobert, a
DCOE member, was a key CONG cyber planner for the exercise.
“They want to be involved with IT. They want to go to a
whole new realm of training and experience and be a vital
aspect of our security.”
“Every day people connect
more things to the internet. Every day we’re creating more
vectors, more surfaces, more opportunities for bad guys to
do bad things,” Rhodes said.
“The Guard has always
been a force multiplier,” he said. “Our traditional [cyber
operations] Soldiers bring a great deal of industry
understanding and perspective to the fight. That experience
engenders trust with our partner agencies.”
to Forbes.com, more than a million cyber-related jobs will
remain unfilled by the year 2020.
“We need more
people in this field; the Guard is a great place to get a
start,” Rhodes said. “Our members become so much more
marketable within the civilian sector; that’s just one
advantage of being on a National Guard cyber team.”
By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jecca Geffre
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