National Guard Helps Maryland with Cybersecurity

The National Guard has been working to keep Maryland safe from cyber-attacks.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan called in the National Guard by executive order on March 12 to bolster the state's COVID-19 pandemic response. In addition to assisting the Old Line State with its coronavirus testing and screening program, the Guard has been helping out with cybersecurity assessments.

Baltimore, Maryland's largest city, was rocked by a catastrophic ransomware attack last year that prevented government officials from performing even basic tasks like sending an email. 

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, Colonel Reid Novotny, Maryland National Guard's joint staff (J6) lead for IT and cyber, said that surviving a major attack did not make Baltimore invulnerable to cyber-criminals. 

"During this crisis, we are in daily contact with them [in] an elevated status," said Novotny. “There have been ransomware attacks that have affected hospitals that are treating COVID patients."

Novotny wouldn't specify which hospitals had been targeted but said that attacks had been observed in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

"Yes, that stuff has actually happened, and the department of IT has responded back, and the Guard has supported that response," he said.

"Patients and the residents of that county that went to that hospital were assured that everyone was up and working."

The state's chief information security officer, Chip Stewart, said that malicious activity against Maryland had increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

"Maryland has noticed an increased frequency of attempted cyber-attacks as have many other states throughout the country, ranging from phishing emails to sophisticated attempts to bypass security measures," said Stewart.

To counter the threats, Maryland has established a security operations center to monitor attacks on its digital infrastructure.

According to Stewart, the National Guard is supporting the state's efforts to thwart cyber-attackers by performing "routine external assessments of the state's websites and networks to identify issues proactively."

As of May 15, the Maryland National Guard has supplied over 3,000 hours of support to four different state agencies across four of Maryland's counties. Novotny said the commercial value of the Guard's cyber-support was roughly $1m.

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