More Than a Dozen States Have Activated the National Guard to Secure Midterm Elections
Other states can request help, but some leaders say more capacity is needed.
BY LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
SENIOR EDITOR, Defense One
At least 14 states have spun up their National Guard units to ward off cyber attacks on the national election that concludes tomorrow, but others have not.
North Carolina is one of the states that has.
“This year, we’re in place to ensure that if there’s any assistance that’s needed, we’re working proactively with our state board of elections, not just on the day of elections, but really prior to to do security analysis checks and look into the network to make sure it’s as secure as possible,” Maj. Gen. Marvin Hunt, adjutant general for North Carolina’s National Guard, told reporters Friday. “We’re really that third party that comes in—it’s just assisting them—to give them a different look. So that on election day, we can all have confidence in our election systems.”
Hunt said his cyber team is always working, but will “surge during the election to ensure that we have 24-hour coverage throughout this whole process.”
North Carolina’s units have helped state entities shore up their cyber hygiene and have provided training to most of its 100 counties, he said.
The National Guard has been stepping up its election and cyber support in recent years. More than 2,200 Army and Air National Guard personnel serve across 38 cyber operations units with another 2,240 service members providing cyber and IT mission assurance, network assessments, protection, and risk mitigation.
States that lack their own Guard units for such things can request help from states that do. But Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the adjutant general and commander of the Illinois National Guard, said few states have enough cyber capability, and “we’re seeing a continued growth in this area and the need for additional security capability within the National Guard.”
And many of the states and territories with cyber units are not using them for election support.
“What you notice is 54 states and territories—not everybody’s doing it, and those that are have invested in cyber talent and cyber missions for years,” said Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, the assistant adjutant general and commander of the Washington Air National Guard.
“So if you don’t have a cyber unit in your state, chances are you’re not in a good position to help out that state for some of the elections, security issues that we’ve got.”
Welsh added that private and state entities are often up against “military-grade adversaries,” but don’t have the structures in place to combat them.
IT security professionals in private companies and state governments aren’t necessarily trained “to do this kind of work,” he said.
“Most of the IT security is built around making sure maybe the walls are higher and the lights are blinking. But one of the unique things here is you have the National Guard whose mission it is…to do cyber missions against other military structures.”
The Guard teams with U.S. Cyber Command, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the lead federal agency on election security, as well as federal and local law enforcement agencies that watch closely for specific threats.
Guard leaders wouldn’t provide specifics on observed threats or particular vulnerabilities state systems were showing during this election cycle, but the expectation is that Election Day will be a regular day on the internet.
Earlier this year, the National Guard completed support for 10 states—Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia—spanning various agencies, such as Arizona’s Department of Homeland Security, secretaries of state and their respective departments, and boards of elections.
Fourteen states have ongoing cyber and election security support: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia.