Securing lines of communication through joint relations – DVIDS

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The 272nd Cyber Operations Squadron assisted Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management & Budget (DTMB) and the Department of Transportation in identifying possible cyber threats within their network during Operation Resilience, June 23-26, 2020.

Operation Resilience was planned through Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), a federal program the 110th Wing has actively participated in to capitalize on the mutual benefit gained by its real-world training environment. IRT is a tool that not only gives service members the ability to improve their skill set but to share their expertise with civilian entities at a reduced cost to communities across the U.S.

“Operation Resilience proved to be a high-value IRT engagement with state of Michigan partners that set the foundation for future training and engagements,” said Major Richard Frantz, IRT team lead.

Members of the Michigan Air National Guard consisting of 17 cyber operators, three intelligence analysts, and one cyber transport system specialist successfully completed the mission from multiple locations, either on-site or thru remote virtual private network (VPN) access.

COVID-19 restrictions and health protection conditions (HPCON) measures reduced the overall footprint during training to eight individuals or less in a given location. Planning and meetings were conducted remotely due to COVID-19 impacts.

“This exercise gave us the opportunity to build on our existing partnership with the National Guard so that we are better prepared for joint ventures in the future,” said Laura Clark, state of Michigan Chief Security Officer.

The cyber operators collaborated with the DTMB and the Michigan Department of Transportation, conducting an intelligence-driven assessment on critical host and network devices that run the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) throughout Michigan.

“I found that as more and more people were brought onto the project on both sides, we had to constantly educate and advocate what capabilities our cyber units bring to the table,” said Frantz.

ATMS provides real-time video traffic information for major roadways, controls “flex lane” on select highways for rush hours and enables rapid response for highway emergencies via monitoring through four State Transportation Operations Centers. These capabilities enable more than 9.8 million Michigan residents and many transiting non-residents to commute safely and timely.

Frantz said, “The big win was expanding the involvement of remote [National] Guard personnel who couldn’t travel in for the event. We had 5 additional members participate who couldn’t have prior to implementing our remote solution.”

Cyber operators successfully conducted operations both remotely through VPN access and on-site at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. Simultaneously, 2 technicians were physically deployed to the hosting center in Lansing to configure and troubleshoot equipment.

“Personally, I was proud to lead a team of innovative, flexible, and determined individuals,” said Frantz.

Thirteen cyber threat pursuits were performed. No advanced persistent threats were discovered on the four critical servers of the ATMS. Operators did discover eight vulnerabilities and recommended mitigations for each. The assessment provided detailed reporting for improving ATMS cybersecurity and assurance.

“As the threats to the digital security of our state continue, it is vital to have a strong working relationship between the state of Michigan and the Michigan National Guard,” says Clark.

In addition to tangible benefits, this training event was the first-ever engagement between Michigan National Guard cyber entities at this scale, serving as a test case for future state engagements or emergency/incident response. The event resulted in the creation of numerous processes, procedures, and a mutual understanding between the 272nd Cyber Operations Squadron and DTMB.

“State of Michigan personnel are highly motivated to develop processes for cyber incident response and engagements, not only for the Michigan Air National Guard, but also for federal and local government departments, and private sector partners,” said Frantz.

An estimate of like-services performed by the private sector would likely cost the state an estimated $210,000 – $420,000 based on four 10-hour training days and 21 personnel.

“Our organization really took a big leap forward in maturing our capabilities because of this IRT collaboration,” said Frantz.

As a first-time event of this nature, both parties had to establish relationships, learn about their respective capabilities, and develop working communications. As a team, both the Michigan National Guard and the state of Michigan achieved a big win by increasing the security of important transportation.

“This will allow us to strengthen the defenses and increase protections for Michigan’s residents. We look forward to continuing this collaborative effort between the two organizations,” said Clark.

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