Maryland Airmen gain experience in national cyber exercise

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  • By Maryland National Guard
  • Maryland National Guard

Six Airmen from the Maryland Air National Guard along with than 800 National Guard cyber operators from more than 40 states and territories participated in Cyber Shield 20, a virtual training exercise designed to build their skills defending networks.

The Army National Guard with assistance from the Air National Guard hosted Cyber Shield, which ran Sept. 12-27 and was conducted completely online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The training scenarios required defense against cyber maneuvers by opposing forces. Groups were broken into blue teams, who are defending the network, and red teams, who are attacking or exploiting the network. The Airmen from the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group were a red team.

“I thought the exercise was a surprisingly good cyber training experience for red team members, especially being the first remote exercise due to Covid,” U.S. Air Force Capt Luke Humphries, a cyber operator with the 276th Cyber Operations Squadron, MDANG. “The [scenarios] were well thought out and the training range was pretty impressive for a homegrown lab environment.”

The exercise was supported by a virtual range control and had network owners from civilian companies and law enforcement agency partners were included in the training to simulate the protection of the nation’s critical information infrastructures.

“This exercise is a great training opportunity for both blue and red teams,” said U.S. Capt. Andrew Lamarra, a cyber operator with the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group, MDANG. “Not only do we get hands-on experience doing our jobs, but we also get to talk to a lot of others in the industry and learn from them.”

The days were on average 15 hours long and challenging due to learning new toolsets, as well as adjusting to the changing scenarios, said Humphries. Still, he felt the team performed well, even though none of them use offensive cyber in their civilian careers.

“Full-time I’m a network engineer, which is fairly different than the skillsets challenged by Cyber Shield,” said Humphries. “This exercise has rekindled my interest in expanding both my offensive and defensive cyber skillset. It got me excited about cyber again.”

The 175th COG team, a mix of both officer and enlisted Airmen, integrated with the members of Army and Air National Guard units of multiple states. Their job as an OPFOR was to bring realistic and adversarial cyber effects, like phishing and exploiting outdated or expired software patches.

The Airmen will bring back what they learned and share it their members of their squadron and group, said Lamarra. They were also able to work with Soldiers from the 169th Cyber Protection Team, Maryland Army National Guard and the team will continue to strengthen those relationships and others that were developed throughout the exercise.

“As we participate in more exercises like this, I see a lot more collaboration with not only other branches, but private sector companies,” said Lamarra. “This knowledge sharing will aid us to better defend our nation.”