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National Guard Cyber Security Units Proposed By WA Congressman

Experts say cyberattacks pose one of the greatest overall safety risks but are often overlooked.

Washington aerospace giant Boeing was hit by a ransomware attack from the so-called “WannaCry” virus, according to the Seattle Times. Boeing downplayed the attack in a tweet Wednesday evening, calling the reports overstated and inaccurate.

“Our cybersecurity operations center detected a limited intrusion of malware that affected a small number of systems,” read a tweet. "Remediations were applied and this is not a production or delivery issue."

However, experts say cyberattacks pose one of the greatest overall safety risks but are often overlooked.

Representative Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., has proposed a new bill that would boost the National Guard’s role nationwide in combating the threat. It’s an area in which the Washington National Guard has long been a leader. Given the region’s military and tech talent, the National Guard in this state developed a specialized cybersecurity unit.

“We were involved in cyber before cyber was even a word,” said Col. Gent Welsh, Commander of the 194th Wing. “We have a number of folks at Microsoft and Amazon who bring those skills that they learn in military to industry and then bring industry best practices back into the military.”

Skills which are in high demand, considering the great risk that we can't see or fully grasp, but a cyberattack could cripple critical infrastructure from our elections systems to transportation to utilities.

“I'm really worried about someone who gets into our electrical grid and does not give it up. They hold it at risk to cause different things to happen within the country,” said Col. Welsh who also points to cyber interference within the elections system.

“If they can cause us to question our basic, fundamental institutions, that's a huge national security risk,” he continued.

Congressman Kilmer says his research shows state governments nationwide may not have the resources or unique skills to combat the full scope of the current threat.

“It seems like not a week goes by where there isn't news of some sort of a cyberattack,” said Kilmer.

Just last week, a ransomware attack shut down Atlanta’s online systems, impacting daily city business from paying traffic tickets to water bills online.

Kilmer cites a 2015 survey that found half of state and local governments surveyed revealed that they had been exposed to between six and 25 data breaches, over the past two years.

His bill, co-sponsored by Republican Steven Palazzo of Mississippi would create cyber civil support teams through the National Guard in individual states to help respond to and help counter cyberattacks.

“Let’s use their expertise. Let's use their existing relationships, because they're already involved in emergency management. They already have relationships with a lot of our critical infrastructure, with our local governments, with our state government, with our utilities,” said Kilmer.

Col. Welsh says his team has worked to build those relationship over time. He says this state takes the issue very seriously, but he believes it’s time to scale up to address gaps in other regions.

“Never have I seen a time where we've acknowledged a threat, that is cyber, so much and in some ways done so little to actually prepare for it,” said Col. Welsh.

“From a very strategic level across the country, I'm just worried about folks that don't have something. Because, again, your average attacker is not going to go where there's a lot of guns and defenses; they're going to find the state that doesn't have something that maybe shares a common system with our state.”

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