By Army Sgt. Michael Giles
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah, April 28, 2017 —
Air Force Capt. Joshua Montgomery isn’t a criminal, but he plays one as part of his duties. He’s a member of an Air National Guard team that tests cyber defenses.
“It’s the best job in the military,” he said. “We get to break things. We get to go and do all of the things that would send you to jail in the real world. It’s fantastic.”
As a member of the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, Montgomery tests cyber defense capabilities by attempting to hack into sensitive information systems.
“The idea of an information aggressor squadron is to understand the tactics that real-world adversaries like hackers and corporate espionage agents use,” he explained. He then uses that understanding to find network vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
Montgomery is putting his hacking skills to use as a member of the Red Cell during Cyber Shield 17, a cyber defense exercise that began here April 24 and continues until May 5.
Cyber Shield 17 is a National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve event that begins with a week of training and preparation and culminates in scenario-based cyber role-playing. It is the sixth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2012 and trains members of the Army National Guard, Air National Guard and Army Reserve, as well as civilians who work in law enforcement, intelligence and information technologies.
Participants each belong to one of several cells. Red Cell members, such as Montgomery, play the role of adversary hackers. Members of the Blue Cell attempt to defend against the Red Cell’s attacks. Members of the Gold Cell support the Blue Cell with coaching and mentorship, while White Cell members evaluate the Blue Cell’s performance.
As Red Cell members prepare to break into Blue Cell systems, their opposite numbers prepare for an experience that Blue Cell leader Army Maj. Kevin T. Mamula predicts will push them to their limits.
“The blue teams will be challenged to their breaking points by design,” said Mamula, who also works as the cyber network defense team lead for Ohio. “They will be stressed and frustrated and mad. But they will come out as a much more effective team.”
Exercise participants emphasized that the threat that cyberattacks pose make this kind of challenging training crucial.
“Cyber threats are real,” said Army Capt. Joshua Hull from the Nebraska Joint Force Headquarters, who serves as assistant leader for the Nebraska Blue Team in Cyber Shield 17. “They are already all around us, and they affect every aspect of our daily interactions.”
Hull said he is confident his team will be able to succeed in warding off the Red Cell attacks, thanks to effective collaboration he has observed among his comrades.