The militia at the founding of the Republic was ready in a minute to defend their homeland but for this modern, hand-picked team of North Carolina National Guard (NCNG) cyber experts that reaction time is way too slow.
Eighteen NCNG cyber specialists reported for state active duty in Raleigh to defend the integrity of the North Carolina electoral system from cyber-attack before and during "Super Tuesday" elections.
This critical mission is just one of the threats that the NCNG is prepared to respond to with their Cyber Security Response Force (CSRF). CSRF is a real-world, mission tested team of 10 full-time cyber professionals with a bench of over 400 drilling Army and Air Guard cyber specialists. The members of the CSRF were chosen by a competitive statewide search of talent.
"They bring real-world experience as well as professionalism to incidents, and provide a calming voice in what can often be a chaotic and stressful cyber-attack environment," said North Carolina Army National Guard Lt. Col. Seth Barun, Cyber/Mission Command Branch Chief at NCNG Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ).
During "Super Tuesday", Barun's teams work at JFHQ and on-site at the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBOE), in downtown Raleigh.
Early morning meetings are dominated by an evaluation of the latest information on threats to the system. Leaders prepare for response strategies from several different threats including malicious attacks from nations and groups hostile to the United States.
Since 2018, the NCNG's Cyber Security Response Force, like the one supporting "Super Tuesday" elections, has responded to over 35 cyber incidents in North Carolina and other states.
"When hackers attack, our response force acts quickly," said Lt. Col. Robbie Felicio, NCNG's Chief Information Officer. "When called upon, our team can be on the scene in a few hours and we work directly with the entity that is in charge of the event."
The NCNG personnel at the NC Board of Elections building coordinate with North Carolina Emergency Management and NCSBOE staff and test equipment at their operations center.
The members of the team generally fall into several different types of expertise including prevention, assessment, incident response and forensics, the art and science of how an attack was made.
Each cyber-attack is different, and the response must be similar which plays into the unique nature of the NCNG. Most of these cyber specialists have years of civilian experience at some of the largest tech firms in the county located here in North Carolina. Some have decades of military service and a few are current college students learning the most up-to-date techniques in an ever-changing cyber domain.
"The team provides a unique and broad skill set that allows our team to utilize existing tools to provide additional oversight on the (NCSBOE) network," said Barun.
The range of skills and knowledge may be best surmised by North Carolina Army National Guard Spc. Azaria Christian, a signal support systems specialist with the 505th Engineer Battalion and student at Cleveland Community College, in Shelby North Carolina and North Carolina Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Randy Conner, a 20 year veteran with the 263rd Combat Communications Squadron.
"I learn a lot from them (the younger Soldiers), they bring skill sets from outside the military and it helps me learn, you can teach an old dog new tricks," said Conner.
Conner's team has more than 50 years of combined civilian and cyber experience protecting data systems from attack.
'Cyber really grabbed my attention, I can be a full-time student, serve my state and nation and teach fellow students what I learned real-world cyber incidents here," said Christian.
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan