WASHINGTON — At home, the National Guard is summoned during natural disasters and civil unrest. Overseas, it complements the active duty military. Now, the nation’s governors want to mobilize the Guard to take on a new threat: cyberattacks.
Terrorists could endanger thousands or even millions of Americans by crippling the computer infrastructure of water utilities or the electrical grid. Meanwhile, criminals are anxious to get their hands on the financial, medical and other personal data states hold in their electronic records.
Guard units in every state have made great strides in protecting their own computer infrastructure, and governors say the Guard is well-equipped to meet broader state demands for cybersecurity.
In an October 2012 survey of states’ chief information security officers, 70 percent of them said their state had experienced a cybersecurity breach. Only 24 percent said they felt “very confident” that their state assets were protected against external threats, and only 32 percent said their staffs were competent to protect against cyberattacks.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is the vice chairman of the National Governors Association, addressed the issue during the annual “State of the States” speech earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
“As the nation develops resiliency to cyberattacks, the Guard should be mobilized to support federal and state efforts to protect networks and respond to incidents,” said Hickenlooper, a Democrat. “While the federal government seeks to clarify how it will work with the private sector and states to better secure cyberspace, states are already moving forward to develop and implement new cyberpolicies to protect their economies and ensure public safety.”
The federal government is taking notice, judging from the National Defense Authorization Act President Barack Obama signed into law on Dec. 26. The measure requires the Department of Defense to consider the Guard’s capabilities as it shores up the Pentagon’s cybersecurity. It also orders the department to consult with governors as it assesses states’ cybersecurity needs and the Guard’s ability to help on that front.