U.S. National Guard’s Cyber Training Emphasizes Social Media, Supply Chain Protection

Cyber Shield 22 Main Planning Conference at Professional Education Center, the nation’s premiere unclassified cyber training exercise.

Cyber Shield 22 Main Planning Conference at Professional Education Center, the nation’s premiere unclassified cyber training exercise. Army National Guard SSG. Jeffrey D. Reno/Kentucky National Guard

Ahead of the annual Cyber Shield exercise, military leaders will train National Guard and other military members to fight disinformation and protect critical infrastructure.

With both public and private digital networks increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks from domestic and foreign adversaries alike, the National Guard is launching its annual, unclassified Cyber Shield exercise from June 5 to 17 to further safeguard federal networks.

Featuring private sector partnerships, the initiative aims to teach more civilian-acquired skills to citizen soldiers and airmen as part of Defense’s cyber offensive.

“Cyber Shield 2022 is putting the spotlight on that primary mission this year,” Maj. Gen. Richard Neely said to reporters. “The Department of Defense and the private sector need to continue to work together to develop cyber defense together to share best practices and protect our infrastructure.”

Over 800 members of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, based in the Department of Homeland Security, will join National Guard members in digital training exercises in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

2022’s training session is distinct in its emphasis on combatting disinformation. George Battistelli, the exercise director and Deputy Chief Information Officer within the National Guard, said that one activity features a simulated social media platform to help distinguish misinformation.

“Social media has changed the way we communicate and consume data,” he said. “And that manner is important for us to continue to train our soldiers using real world events, so they're able to cut down the noise and focus on their mission.”

Battistelli referenced the rampant misinformation that spread during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, as well as during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Outside of the focus on social media, the training also discusses how to handle large-scale incidents like the Solar Winds hack in 2020. This year, the training will also focus on supply chain holistic cybersecurity incident response. 

“Cyber Shield is special because it integrates at all levels of government, tech industry, law enforcement and other partners,” Neely said. “These military cyber warriors have a significant advantage over their active duty counterparts as they bring in those unique civilian acquired skills and experiences in addition to their military cyber training.”

Cybersecurity has long been poised to become the next frontier in national security, but Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine has heightened concerns over digital vulnerabilities in critical American networks. Various federal agencies have issued advisories and best practice guidance to public and private institutions alike. 

Neely added that these collaborations between U.S. military personnel and private sector leadership should help prevent more zero day exploits, which are known to hackers but not the people running the vulnerable systems.

“The systems that we depend on, transportation that we depend on, so much of this is not owned by the government,” he said. “And so we have to depend on others to ensure that their cybersecurity is up to snuff to life and safety events.”