BANGOR, Maine — As the Maine National Guard confronts a future likely to include significant budget cuts, it is taking on a new role protecting the state’s cyber network from attacks, according to the Guard’s top officer.
“We have right now in the [Maine] National Guard an eight-person cyber network defense team,” Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell told a small group of citizens who gathered Wednesday for the July Bangor Foreign Policy Forum, held at the Bangor Public Library.
Campbell said the Maine National Guard cyber defense team — a joint venture between the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard — is very new, but will soon have the capability to defend more than military online networks.
“The 101st Air Refueling Wing have the software to not only patrol its own network but to protect any network,” said Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.
Cyber-terrorism could paralyze telecommunications — computers, cellphones, the Internet — and affect banking and finance, energy and transportation systems, and other online networks that people in Maine and the government rely upon, Campbell said.
“We’re still developing the capabilities [to defend them],” Capt. Norman Stickney, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said Wednesday.
Stickney said the cost of the cyber defense team is not known yet, because it’s so new.
Campbell said typically it costs about one-third less for the Guard to conduct a program compared to regular full-time military forces.
The Maine Guard is working on partnerships with the operators of Maine.gov to protect the state’s information highway and that of the University of Maine system, including the University of Southern Maine, which is starting a new set of classes to educate the next generation of cyber warriors, Campbell said.
“You are not going to have a person in uniform on the Maine.gov site,” Campbell said.
The Guard will step in “if something happens to those networks,” he said.
A cyber attack on the South Carolina Department of Revenue three years ago resulted in more than 4 million social security numbers being compromised, Campbell said.
“They still have no idea who did it or the extent of the damage,” the Guard leader said.
“That could happen here today.”
He then listed the state’s dam monitoring system, which is controlled from Massachusetts, and UMaine’s email system, FirstClass.com, as two prime examples of digital
infrastructures that are vulnerable at this point.
Because the Maine Guard has a dual state and federal role, it can partner with federal, state and local governments to provide vulnerability assessments, and to protect and defend online networks, Campbell said.
The ability to work with so many agencies is another reason, “the Defense Department is looking at the National Guard as a key element” in the country’s future cyber defense, Campbell said. “We see this as a growth industry in the National Guard,.”
There are other growth areas, as well. Growing opportunities in the Arctic are emerging as global warming adds shipping lanes in the Arctic Sea and countries vie for control of the region and its resources.
For the Maine Guard, adding a reliable digital communications network that can reach over the horizon is in the works, Campbell said. Keeping an eye on any new threats and ensuring a role in the region’s military decision-making process are others.
Campbell said officials in Washington D.C. will have the final say in what happens to Guard units across the country, with projected cuts of 45,000 personnel under consideration as a cost-cutting measure, Campbell said.
In Maine, that means a potential decrease in Guard forces from 2,200 to 2,400 current members to around 1,800, he told those at the forum.
While changes to several Maine units are on the table, m uch of the talk has focused on the 133rd Engineering Battalion, the state’s oldest unit that can trace its roots to the Revolutionary War.
“For over 200 years of that history, the 133rd was an infantry unit,” Campbell said. “In 1971, it was converted to engineers. There is a [strong] possibility it will go back to being an infantry unit, but I’m not the guy who makes the decisions. It’s Congress.”