More than a dozen states have activated guardsmen to assist in cybersecurity support for Tuesday’s midterm elections, despite no known threats to election security.
“We just ensure that that flow of information continues to happen from the Guard Bureau perspective,” said Army Col. Joed Carbonell, National Guard Bureau cyber chief. “And as of right now, what they are sharing in the public is they expect this to be another normal day on the internet as this goes.”
Air Force Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, who serves as the Illinois adjutant general, said during a recent media roundtable hosted by the National Guard Bureau that what will occur is a “continued partnership” among the Guard, emergency managers and state election boards to ensure election security.
“We’re in place to ensure that if there’s any assistance that’s needed, we’re working proactively with our State Board of Elections, not just on the day of elections, but really prior to, to do security analysis checks and look into the network to make sure it’s as secure as possible,” Neely said.
The Guard began partnering with Cyber Security Infrastructure Security Agencies (CSISA) and U.S. Cyber Command earlier in 2022 “to really start the flow of information” from the national level to state and local, according to Carbonell.
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“We took the lead whole of nation approach taken away from CSISA and then we have the Guard Bureau serving as a conduit of information back and forth between the states and the federal side,” Carbonell said.
As it relates to malicious threats, Army Maj. Gen. Todd Hunt, North Carolina National Guard’s adjutant general, said that is handled by state and federal law enforcement.
“We’ve been doing election monitoring of the network since we had the first discussions in 2018,” Hunt said. “ … This is a steady state type of operation. However, we will surge during the election to ensure that we have 24-hour coverage throughout this whole process. And I will say that from a National Guard standpoint, we treat this like we do any kind of domestic operations, the partnerships, because we are citizens, soldiers, we live in the state and we do have a vested interest in our state elections along with the federal elections.”
Guardsmen, according to Neely, are using their “unique skills” as part of a “whole government approach.”
“And a lot of times, as we did in COVID, we’re just there is an extra set of hands to assist,” Neely said. “And the professionals in the law enforcement area are the ones that are looking at some of these threats closer than we would.”
Hunt said that one preventive measure the North Carolina cyber task force team does is educate local and state officials to “prevent some of these instances of malicious attacks on our network.”
“We have 100 counties in North Carolina. Each one has their own election system, an election process,” Hunt said. “But our team has gone out from a cyber standpoint and done cyber hygiene and training for each not all of our counties yet, but the majority of them to help shore up the network as we move to the election cycles.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, assistant adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, said that because the Guard is “still one of the most respected and trusted institutions across the United States,” that presence adds a “layer of credibility” to efforts to ensure safe and secure elections.
“The National Guard is like anything in the military, extremely nonpartisan,” he said. “And it does give that extra sense of, ‘Hey we took a look at this thing. We took a look at it from this perspective, with everything that we’ve been trained on and everything that we do and all the trust and credibility we’ve earned from from our population over the years. And this is what we saw and this is what we didn’t see.’”
But ultimately what makes the “cyber participation” possible, according to Welsh, is that states decided to do it.
“What you notice is that 54 states and territories, not everybody is doing it,” Welsh said. “And those that are have invested in cyber talent at cyber missions for years. So if you don’t have a cyber unit in your state, chances are you’re not in a good position to help out that state for some of the elections security issues that we’ve got.”
14 states utilizing National Guard for cybersecurity:
- North Carolina
- New Mexico
- New York
- West Virginia