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Cyber Yankee exercise helps companies combat cyberattacks

One of the many Cyber Yankee teams.jpg
Brian Scott-Smith
National Guard members during a Cyber Yankee exercise.

Connecticut utility companies have been training with National Guard members from all six New England States during the annual two-week Cyber Yankee exercise.

The exercise helps organizations and businesses develop skills to combat cyberattacks on critical infrastructure like water, energy, pipeline and electric sectors.

Robert Schwarm is the director of technology at the Metropolitan District Commission, a water and wastewater authority based in Hartford. He said the commission is being cyberattacked regularly.

“We see nation-state threats, we see criminal actors, all the indicators of compromise that come from either community," Schwarm said. "Gray actors are a little harder to identify, but we still understand they are in our midst and trying to gain access to our systems. They all have different motives, and they all have different capabilities to be able to succeed in various levels of competency.”

In May of this year, the Colonial Pipeline in Texas, one of the largest gas pipelines in the U.S., was shut down for several days after a ransomware attack, affecting consumers and airlines along the East Coast. It was deemed a national security threat. 

Lt. Col. Cameron Sprague, the Cyber Yankee 2022 exercise director, said businesses need to take cyberattacks seriously and prepare for them.

“The biggest thing an organization can do to protect themselves from a cyberattack is basic cyber hygiene," Sprague said. "Things like turning on multi-factor authentication for all their users, or having an instant response plan and walking through a plan to be prepared for a cyberattack. Patching, that’s another issue, where many organizations don’t have the most up-to-date patches. And really at the executive level, focusing its cyber security. If you do those things, you can lower your risk of a cyberattack.”

Training for the exercise also came from the University of New Haven’s Project IRONCLAD, which trains Department of Defense personnel on cyber response actions using desktop simulations.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.