by Maj. Holli Nelson
West Virginia National Guard
Charleston, W. Va. – Members of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) Defense Cyber Operations – Element (Cyber Team) played a key role in safeguarding the June 9, 2020 primary elections in West Virginia, and will continue to provide critical support through the November general election cycle.
In collaboration with the West Virginia Office of Technology and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, WVNG Cyber Team personnel, performing their mission in state active duty status, operated from the West Virginia Cybersecurity Office located in the state Capitol, as well as remote locations. Their mission was to monitor potential cyber threats and attacks against government systems leading up to and during the West Virginia Primary, including voting systems.
“Our mission is to help state officials ensure a safe and secure voting process,” stated West Virginia Army National Guard 2nd Lt. David Parsons, WVNG cybersecurity manager. “Cyber-attacks are unfortunately becoming more and more prevalent and can be executed by hostile government or non-governmental players from anywhere in the world. Our job is to counter potential intrusions into our voting systems to make sure every citizen gets to vote and their vote counts and counts as it was cast.”
The Department of Homeland Security has deemed cyber threats to elections as “high risk”, from poll booths to public facing voter registration systems. State and local voting databases could be locked by hackers demanding ransomware or manipulated by outside actors, including changing voter databases with incorrect party affiliations, addresses, etc.
Protecting elections from cyber-based attacks has become an important function of state and local governments, with West Virginia leading the way in integrating civilian and National Guard assets together to combat the growing threat. The WVNG first assisted in providing election support in 2016. In 2018, 20 Soldiers from the WVNG’s 620th Signal Company attended a cyber security course at the University of Charleston, earning Ethical Hacker, Incident Handler and Security Analyst certificates. Now in 2020, that number of trained Guardsmen exceeds 100.
The Guard has also helped lead the state by hosting cyber security tabletop exercises and has more than 20 personnel assigned full-time specifically to cyber needs to support the Army’s Cyber Directorate and the Department of Military Operations-Cyber (DAMO-CY) missions through the Army Interagency Training and Education Center. Additionally, the WVNG was tasked in 2018 by U.S. Cyber Command (US CYBERCOM) to assist in the development of a concept of operations to define any state’s National Guard support for cyber-related Defense Support to Civil Authority activities.
“Our democratic election process is a defining part of what makes our nation a beacon to the world,” said Parsons. “Protecting that process and making sure our fellow West Virginians can be confident in their voting process is an important mission we are extremely proud of and will continue to perform.”