Oct. 21 , 2010

Virginia Guard Data Processing Unit conducts first unit-level cyber defense exercise

By 1st Lt. Scott Campbell
Virginia Data Processing Unit

FAIRFAX, Va. — The Fairfax-based Virginia Army National Guard Data Processing Unit conducted a unit-level cyber defense exercise Oct. 16, 2010 to test the unit’s technical capability in preventing, identifying and responding to unauthorized access to U.S. Army computer networks and websites. The one-day simulation exercise called “Operation Cyber Forward” was the first time the DPU had conducted a unit-level exercise to test their cyber defense skills.


Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard Data Processing Unit’s Network Warfare Branch monitor network traffic during the unit’s Cyber Forward exercise conducted Oct. 16 in Fairfax. (Photo by 1st Lt. Scott Campbell, Virginia Data Processing Unit)

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“The exercise was a resounding success,” said Lt. Col. Adam Volant, commander of the DPU. “We reached another milestone in the unit’s history with the completion of this first unit-level exercise. Our Soldiers left hungry to learn more, to continue training and honing their skills.”

The exercise was based on a training scenario in which a foreign military power initiates deliberate cyber attacks against U.S. Army computer assets. The enemy element had the ability to conduct denial of service attacks capable of disrupting U.S. and allied operations.

Volant said his intent for the exercise was to identify hostile cyber activity directed against U.S. and allied cyber infrastructure and initiate an efficient and effective response to disrupt and prevent future hostile activity.

Soldiers were actively engaged in Computer Networking Operations and security and not only were they able to build a functioning network, they were successfully able to defend it once the network was established.

“This is no different from any other military security operation,” said Maj. Thomas Harper, the senior training officer for the exercise. “You have to identify your vulnerabilities along your perimeter.” His explanation enabled Soldiers who were new to the unit or unfamiliar CNO to better understand the intent of the exercise.

“Like any other Army units, the DPU’s greatest asset is the Soldiers,” Volant said. “The DPU is able to take advantage of its proximity to the technical environment of metro DC and the tremendous collection of skills our Soldiers have obtained through the thriving pursuit of their civilian careers. These highly-trained and qualified Soldiers have the DPU uniquely poised to provide expert cyber support to the U.S. Army.”

The DPU is a unique unit comprised of approximately 160 personnel. The unit was originally designated the 123rd DPU when it was established in January 1975. The DPU’s original mission was to provide data processing support to the National Guard Bureau Computer Center and during the 1980s, the 123rd DPU supported an NGB initiative to field multiprocessor UNIX servers to all 54 states and territories. Shortly after Operation Desert Storm, the 123rd DPU was re-designated the Virginia Data Processing Unit.

The DPU adapted to the changing IT environment by disbanding mainframe support teams and forming computer desktop support teams that provided support both during the weekends and during annual training. Since 2001, the DPU’s mission has expanded far beyond NGB, acquiring an Information Operations mission, a Computer Emergency Response Team mission and an Army Web Risk Assessment mission.

The unit currently provides direct and indirect support to a variety of Department of Defense organizations to include the U.S. Army 1st Information Operations Command, U.S. Central Command, United States Strategic Command, United States Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, United States Cyber Command and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, in addition to continued support to both NGB and the commonwealth of Virginia. Soldiers from the unit have been actively conducting real-world missions for the duration of the unit’s history in the U.S. and overseas most recently in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The DPU’s Information Operations Branch had responsibility in the exercise to identify shortcomings in the training and develop a plan to correct those deficiencies and the branch chief said he was impressed by the accomplishments of his Soldiers during the exercise.

“The team was able to work through all of the issues related to building a network from the ground up, and they provided a consistent quality product for the Network Operations Branch,” said Capt. Barry P Dunham, IO Branch chief.

“The exercise was a great opportunity to identify our network vulnerabilities early and it was also a leadership development exercise,” said 1st Lt. Timothy Schilbach, the senior technical officer of the NETOPS Branch in the exercise. “I could feel the stress building the more directions I was pulled in, but I was able to maintain control and accomplish the mission.”

During the exercise, the threat came from 1st Lt. Anthony Stephens and the Network Warfare Branch who wrote the malware program and scenarios that were used during the exercise. “The greatest threat comes a well funded, well trained source that we haven’t fully identified,” he explained during a class he gave on potential threats.”

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