WASHINGTON — Information operations will be featured much more prominently at this year’s keystone National Guard cyber exercise.

Cyber Shield 20, a defensive exercise that seeks to train guardsmen in network defense and incident response, will take place Sept. 12-26. It’s expected to feature more than 800 members of the Army and Air National Guard.

Officials told reporters during a Sept. 2 teleconference that while information operations were a small part of the exercise for the last three years, this year is different.

“There are, specifically, actors that would like to run their influence operations and so the more that we can give our defensive cyber operations elements and our cyber protection teams the ability to see those things, the more they’re able to discern them in the real world,” said George Battistelli, Cyber Shield’s exercise director. “We are focusing on it more this year.”

Col. Teri Williams, exercise officer in charge and commander of the 91st Cyber Brigade within the Virginia Army National Guard, cited misinformation and disinformation activity as justification for the exercise increasing its focus on information operations.

It has been well documented that adversaries have sought to inject misinformation and disinformation into American society to achieve their strategic objectives, from sowing widespread chaos to diminishing America’s standing in the world relative to their own.

Williams added that the drill benefits both information operations personnel and defensive teams.

Other aspects of the exercise this year will feature phishing attempts, insider threats and work on industrial control systems. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the exercise is remote this year, which has already posed challenges to the portion on defending critical infrastructure. Officials said they originally planned for physical access to these systems but have instead transitioned to a virtual environment.

Officials declined to offer many details regarding the scenarios or attacks, noting the exercise hasn’t officially begun and they don’t want to tip off participants.

Unlike previous years, when Cyber Shield involved a single scenario, this year will host a new scenario each day. This was done, officials said, to ensure everyone is at the same level.

Typically some personnel will excel at certain aspects over others, but with different scenarios each day, it puts everyone on the same page and helps reach the eventual goal to train everyone at the same level, officials added.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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