State Launches Joint Task Force to Protect Against Cyber Threats Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The Maryland National Guard is assisting in protecting virtual communities through the development of a joint task force composed of Guardsmen and their cyber partners in the Maryland Defense Force and the Maryland Department of Information Technology.

The joint team is responsible for evaluating Maryland government websites to ensure they are functioning properly and displaying accurate information amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These sites are providing critical information to the public, including avenues for applying for unemployment, means to donate resources, and timely updates on the State’s response.

“One of the things that makes it very meaningful is the real impact on the state and for the citizens,” said Chip Stewart, chief information officer at the Maryland Department of “What we’re doing helps protect the state from bad guys that would seek to do harm in this crisis and I think that that impact is extraordinarily positive and unique.”

According to a press release:

The Maryland National Guard’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has involved a number of missions, including statewide efforts in assisting transportation support, medical supply and food distribution, and setting up potential health screening locations. However, the response efforts to protect the health of Maryland communities does not stop in the physical world and the cyber task force is the first of its kind to be stood up in response to COVID-19.

In response to the Governor’s call for a state of emergency, U.S. Air Force Col. Reid J. Novotny, MDNG Joint Staff J6, began coordinating with the Maryland Military Department and lead agencies doing cyber protection for the state to determine how they could assist the state’s operations.

“The [Maryland Military Department], both in the Army, Air and Maryland Defense Force, have a great deal of cyber capabilities,” explained Novotny. “We stood up a joint task force for cyber under the air component and will be helping the [Maryland] Department of Information Technology in their mission to protect communication coming from the Governor and the state.”

“Our livelihood basically is to prepare for these types of events,” explains Air Force Lt. Col. Janice Hernandez, Maryland Joint Task Force Cyber commander. According to Hernandez, the group’s cyber protection team has had substantial experience in defending military computer networks. “We’ve trained for it and we can also use it in our state capacity.”

In many ways, this mission is “business as usual” for the cyber professionals of the MDNG. This is in part due to existing partnerships with Maryland’s other agencies involved in cyber protection.

“They have already done preliminary work in support of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in the Maryland Joint Operation Center to reduce known vulnerabilities, especially those used by advanced persistent threat actors,” explains Novotny. “It’s easy to hit-the-ground-running because we already knew the people involved and had already set up the command structure between the different organizations in the military and at the state level.”

In a great example of neighbors stepping up to help their neighbors, the members of Joint Task Force Cyber will be able to work within Maryland State government systems and websites, having a direct impact on the members of their communities.

Useful Links

MDNG Serves Real, Virtual Communities in COVID-19 Response

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