WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut National Guard troops are gearing up for a different kind of warfare. All this week, soldiers and airmen are studying cybersecurity at the University of New Haven.
When you think of National Guard training, you might picture a gun range, maybe an obstacle course, but there is a new kind of threat to this country and it can’t really be fought with guns. It can be fought with computers.
“It’s a threat to our way of life,” said Brig. Gen. Gerald McDonald, Assistant Adjutant General – Air, CT National Guard. “It’s a threat to our nation. It’s a threat to our world. It’s a threat to our state.”
General McDonald is talking about cyber attacks. He leads a special group within Connecticut’s National Guard that fights on the on-line battlefield. You may remember that hackers hit the Hartford Public School System just hours before the first day of class last September. The National Guard jumped into action.
“We got this group together just in time to be able to help the state respond to certain emergencies. It’s what we do,” Gen. McDonald explained. “The guard is best when it’s in its support role and this is just another example of where we’re able to use our soldiers and airmen to help the state.”
To do that, they need training. Monday morning, they started a week-long program called Ironclad at the University of New Haven, home to one of the nation’s top cybersecurity experts.
“The biggest defense is not more technology, it’s more people who understand the technology and more people that understand cybersecurity,” said Prof. Ibrahim Baggili, PhD., assistant dean of UNH and director of the Connecticut Institute of Technology.
Foreign groups and possibly foreign governments have already targeted U.S. elections. More recently, we’ve seen ransomware attacks on energy companies, even meat processors. Experts say these attacks are only the beginning. The best defense is training and preparation.
“If they were set up correctly in the first place, they wouldn’t worry about that because they’d have their backups ready to go in case their system failed and they got a ransomware attack,” Baggili explained.
While this is the first week of Ironclad in Connecticut, the hope is there will be many more weeks and that this will spread to many other states as well.