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What are the potential pros and cons of a Cyber National Guard?

A congressman proposed adding a Cyber National Guard to the military to protect the U.S. from cyber adversaries. Expert Mike O. Villegas examines the potential drawbacks of this branch.

State Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) said that the U.S. is in need of a Cyber National Guard. This proposed...

new branch of the military would protect the U.S. from "cyber adversaries," but it seems like a radical idea. Does the U.S. really need a Cyber National Guard? Is the state of cybersecurity really that bad in this country?

The National Guard dates back to 1636, when citizen soldiers formed militias to defend their community and country. The Guard is a part-time job in which citizens can serve their country and specialize in a particular field or utilize special skills that the Guard may need. Representative Will Hurd has proposed a new branch of the National Guard where guardsmen could serve as cybersecurity specialists one weekend a month and two weeks a year. This sounds like a great idea, but how effective can a guardsman be in such a limited amount of time?

Cybersecurity is a relatively new frontier in the protection of our country. It requires a significant amount of time, training and commitment to be effective. As laudable as the service is, it is questionable what a guardsman could contribute in 128 days out of the year.

During the Cyber National Guard enlistment process, a recruit would commit to serving for three, six or eight years, and this commitment cannot be taken lightly. Enlistment means that, along with a full-time job, the guardsman's weekends will be occupied. If he has a nine-to-five, hourly job, this may be workable, but if his specialty is cybersecurity, he is probably a salaried employee, and is most likely on-call 24/7. To add the commitment of the Cyber National Guard would impose a hardship and burden on him that could easily result in burnout.

Another disadvantage of the Cyber National Guard is the possibility of being deployed outside of the U.S. With ever-increasing cyberattacks, especially to federal agencies, there would be high demand for more dedicated guardsmen. The time spent on cybersecurity would seemingly be taken up by training and familiarization in order for new guardsmen to be effective in their cyber defense roles. That said, training in the National Guard is reportedly low compared to the industry. This may lead to frustration and diminished enthusiasm in serving.

Admittedly, our country needs to strengthen its cybersecurity posture around the world. We are being attacked by foreign entities daily, and data breaches are on the rise. What we need is more highly skilled, full-time cybersecurity professionals in the federal government armed with the tools needed to defend our country. This may sound unpatriotic, but it may be a more pragmatic and realistic view of how effective this proposal could be.

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This was last published in January 2017

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Do you think there should be a cyber branch of the National Guard, why or why not?
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Considering that InfoSec includes availability, a case could be made for training and maintaining a class of National Guard cyber emergency responders. These folks would be responsible for staffing information security associated with emergency management and critical infrastructure protection if/when local assets (people/technology) are unavailable. Of course, this would require considerable investment in documentation and training, but particularly for critical infrastructure support would be well worth the cost. In addition, given that the U.S. Air Space and Air Traffic Control systems already include the management of military aircraft, I believe an additional case can be made to establish a comparable cybe air and cyber traffic controls.
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