Minnesota National Guard, State Agencies Partner for Cyber Security Planning

October 9, 2019 (ST. PAUL, Minnesota) -“I’d love to have the Guard kick it off.”

Maggie Brunner, program director for cybersecurity at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices, opened the second round of discussions of a two-day conference by inviting members of the Minnesota National Guard to share their capabilities as state, federal and private agencies came together around the common goal of security in information technologies.

“What was really impressive to NGA was the commitment from the Guard coming into it,” she added.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month as proclaimed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, and the state has been building relationships between its information technology (IT) professionals from the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) for some time.

MNIT is the information technology agency for Minnesota’s executive branch. Led by the state’s Chief Information Officer, MNIT sets IT strategy, direction, policies and standards.

The 177th Cyber Protection Team (CPT), a Minnesota National Guard unit, was officially stood up in October of 2017. Since then, they have been engaged in statewide and international exercises. A few members of the unit participated in NATO exercise Locked Shields 19 earlier this year. Locked Shields is one of the world’s largest and most complex real-time cyber defense exercises which is hosted annually by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. The exercise simulates responding to a massive cyber incident in which participants must test their strategic decision-making, as well as legal and communication prowess.

Last November, members of the Minnesota National Guard and MNIT conducted a joint two-day exercise to test and track their skills as they relate to security during political elections. Now, with presidential elections one year away, teams and organizations from across the state and nation have gathered at the Minnesota state capitol building to organize around cybersecurity moving forward.

“It has been a lot of bringing in other agencies to try to discuss everybody’s role within election cybersecurity,” explained Lt. Col. Dan Cunningham, officer-in-charge of the 177th Cyber Protection Team. “The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension we’ve had participate in some of the meetings; the workshop from the FBI; Homeland Security and Emergency Management; everybody that really could have a role in cybersecurity during the election from just a continuity perspective.”

While the working relationship between MNIT and the Minnesota National Guard’s Cyber Protection Team is still developing, events like the cybersecurity conference and future training exercises will further ensure that the cyber defenses of Minnesota are ready for any threat that may arise.

Story and photos by SGT Linsey Williams