Last year at Fort Meade in Maryland, the NSA’s CYBERCOM division held an internal set of cyber wargames which pitted reservist army officials against active-duty soldiers, and the results weren’t what you might expect.
“They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended the exercise. “The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked.”
While you’d expect the members of the military who were being paid daily to hunt down virtual threats would come out way in front, it turns out the guys who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for their chance to shine got just that, and blew the serving squads right out of the water.
Since around mid-2009, CYBERCOM has been actively training close to 6,000 full-time, actively deployed soldiers to the task of protecting our networks. The games are a chance for these departments and the soldiers who inhabit them to show off their skills and prove they’re worth their weight in budgets, but when they get schooled this hard, it becomes increasingly difficult for the committees who oversee them to justify their funding and keep the programs going beyond what the American people’s tax dollars can reasonably afford.
The original plan was to draw 80 percent of CYBERCOM’s forces from the serving army, and the remaining 20 percent from reservists. Given the skills shown by America’s part-time military in the cyber-bout, held last year, this could be about ready to change.
“It defies common sense to think that industry, in particular our high-tech industries, are not moving at light speed compared to the way government works,” said Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board.
For now though, the department is developing a specialized joint force of about 133 separate teams, staffed to the nines with 6,000 cyberwarriors who will train for a range of intense real-world missions, including everything from defending DoD networks, to mounting offensive operations, and even disabling enemy systems that are live in the field.
CYBERCOM hasn’t released any of their own speculations as to why reservists were so much further ahead of the game than those who were serving at the time of the contest, however intelligence technology expert and fellow witness to the slaughter Matthew Aid had some interesting ideas which could clue the general public into the secret.
“The guys and gals who work day jobs in suits and ties — or tie dyes and blue jeans — a lot of them have real-world experience in cyber that is far and above the limited skills that … regular military people have.”
Regardless of who was better than who or the team who walked away with first prize by the time the final bell rang, it’s encouraging to see that some of the United States’ resources are being poured into more useful areas of the online battleground. These are the types of programs that make sense in the scheme of being prepared for a bandwidth barrage, and can give the Army and its subsidiaries a safe place to showcase our capabilities that won’t reveal too many state secrets in the meantime.