Congress has mandated that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel evaluate the practicality of hiring part-time nonmilitary employees to help the National Guard thwart cyberattacks.
Some states and other nations, including Estonia, already have volunteer netwarfare squads poised to protect networks controlling oil reserves, subways and other critical infrastructure in times of crisis.
The corps outlined in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that lawmakers approved on Thursday night would recruit "non-dual technicians," or National Guard personnel who are not required to deploy overseas. Dual-status employees must be uniformed military members and maintain their Defense Department ranks and assignment units.
The legislative text calls for "an assessment of the appropriateness of hiring on a part-time basis non-dual status technicians who possess appropriate cyber security expertise for purposes of assisting the National Guard in protecting critical infrastructure and carrying out cyber missions."
Earlier this year, House and Senate members from both parties introduced legislation that would stand up a National Guard "Cyber and Computer Network Incident Response Team" -- or Cyber Guard -- in every state. Officials with the National Guard Association of the United States have said they back the proposals, but note Defense officials have argued the teams might sap resources from departmental cyber activities.
There have been concerns about domestic extremist groups or cybersecurity contractors forming rogue bands of cyber patriots. But it does not appear that either of the Guard organizations described is structured in a way that would give rise to such cyber mercenaries.