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Homeland Security

Guard helps safeguard primary election against cyber threats

By Maj. Holli Nelson | West Virginia National Guard June 12, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) Defense Cyber Operations – Element (Cyber Team) helped safeguard the state's June 9 primary elections and will provide critical support through the November general election cycle.

Working with the West Virginia Office of Technology and the West Virginia Secretary of State's office, WVNG Cyber Team personnel monitored potential cyber threats before and during the West Virginia primary from the West Virginia Cybersecurity Office in the state Capitol and remote locations.

"Our mission is to help state officials ensure a safe and secure voting process," said West Virginia Army National Guard 2nd Lt. David Parsons, WVNG cybersecurity manager. "Cyberattacks are unfortunately becoming more and more prevalent and can be executed by hostile government or non-governmental players from anywhere in the world. Our job is to counter potential intrusions into our voting systems to make sure every citizen gets to vote and their vote counts and counts as it was cast."

The Department of Homeland Security has deemed cyber threats to elections as "high risk," from poll booths to public-facing voter registration systems. State and local voting databases could be locked by hackers demanding ransomware or manipulated by outsiders.

Protecting elections from cyberattacks has become an important function of state and local governments, with West Virginia leading the way in integrating civilian and National Guard assets to combat the growing threat. The WVNG first provided election support in 2016. In 2018, 20 Soldiers from the WVNG's 620th Signal Company attended a cybersecurity course at the University of Charleston, earning Ethical Hacker, Incident Handler and Security Analyst certificates. Now in 2020, more than 100 Guard members are trained.

The Guard has also helped lead the state by hosting cybersecurity tabletop exercises. More than 20 Guard members are assigned full-time to cyber needs to support the Army's Cyber Directorate and the Department of Military Operations-Cyber (DAMO-CY) missions through the Army Interagency Training and Education Center.

"Our democratic election process is a defining part of what makes our nation a beacon to the world," said Parsons. "Protecting that process and making sure our fellow West Virginians can be confident in their voting process is an important mission we are extremely proud of and will continue to perform."

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