US government conducts largest cyber-defense exercise to protect critical infrastructure

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The U.S. government has just wrapped up one of the largest cyber exercises to date, involving more than 500 participants from the military, law enforcement, civilian agencies, academia and the commercial sector.

Cyber Guard 14-1, which concluded on July 17, was a two-week event testing how the services and federal agencies coordinated with each other at the strategic and tactical levels to protect, prevent, mitigate and recover from a cyber attack on U.S. national cyber infrastructure.

U.S. Cyber Command, or Cybercom, was the lead organization for the event, which was hosted at the FBI's National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Envisioned as a "holistic, whole-of-nation effort" Cyber Guard also brought in observers from academia, private industry and state utilities. According to Defense Department officials, it was the largest exercise of its kind, bringing in more than 550 participants—double the number of the 2013 event.

Besides Cybercom, elements of the National Guard, reserves, and the National Security Agency supported the Homeland Security Department  and FBI responses to simulated foreign-based attacks on critical national infrastructure.

"We are continuing to learn and mature," Navy Admiral Michael S. Rogers, Cybercom's commander and NSA director said in a statement. "We have to build a construct to work seamlessly and effectively with our partners, and not just within the government, but also with industry and academia—outside [the Defense Department]."

A major theme of the exercise focused on building partnerships, processes and technical capabilities to better deal with a cyber attack at the national level.

DHS was the lead organization for coordinating the protection, prevention, mitigation and recovery from a cyber incident. The Justice Department and FBI are responsible for investigating, attributing, disrupting and prosecuting domestic cyber crimes and collecting, analyzing and disseminating domestic cyber intelligence. DoD is responsible for protecting the nation from attack and collecting, analyzing and distributing foreign threat intelligence, and supporting the DHS in its protection, prevention and recovery role, DOD officials said.

The National Guard's role is to help states affected by a cyber incident, allowing federal forces to focus on their core mission. According to DoD, the majority of the exercise's participants were National Guard personnel from 22 states.

Cyber Guard also included several cyber protection teams, which are part of Cybercom's Mission Protection Force that has been assembled over the past several years, DOD officials said. These teams defend DoD computer networks and support the military's requirement to provide foreign intelligence and assessment as well as active-duty capabilities for national defense.

"Exercises like Cyber Guard help us develop and refine key information sharing and coordination processes, understand each other's capabilities and authorities, and operate in a manner that keeps us in the right information to present the best national response," said Greg Touhill, deputy assistant secretary of homeland security for cybersecurity operations and programs in a statement.

For more:
- read to the DOD release regarding the exercise

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