Cantwell, Manchin Introduce Legislation to Bolster National Guard Cyber Defender Units to Protect Critical Infrastructure from Cyber-Attack

Bill creates cyber civil support teams in every state and territory to protect critical infrastructure, government & businesses from cyber-attack

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As cyber-attacks across the United States continue to grow, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) today introduced legislation to bolster National Guard cybersecurity capabilities nationwide to better protect public and privately-operated infrastructure, including election systems, dams, and electric grid.

The legislation, the Major General Tim Lowenberg National Guard Cyber Defenders Act (Lowenberg Cyber Act), approves additional resources to improve our nation’s cybersecurity posture by establishing National Guard Cyber Civil Support Teams in every state and territory to bridge the gap between federal and non-federal cybersecurity efforts. Because critical infrastructure is primarily non-federal, states, tribes, and local governments are left to secure these assets themselves. Cyber Civil Support Teams would work to prevent and respond to cyber incidents under the direction of governors and the state adjutant general, building a trusted link between states, critical infrastructure providers, and the federal government. They would also provide ongoing defensive cyber training to owners and operators of critical infrastructure.

“With cyber-attacks on the rise, we need to strengthen our defenses and protect critical infrastructure,” said Senator Cantwell. “Establishing National Guard cyber teams in each state will make sure the resources and expertise are in place to respond to the growing threats. Washington state’s National Guard Cyber team is a proven model and is leading the way in supporting local responses to cyber incidents.”

"As cyber-attacks on the United States increase, we must be able to protect our critical infrastructure, which most of the time is protected by local governments that are underfunded and ill-equipped to defend against sophisticated foreign adversaries. These National Guard cyber civil support teams will help local governments prevent and defend against cyber-attacks, terrorist events and emergencies that threaten critical national assets like our election systems, dams, electric grid, and schools. This is common sense legislation that should be passed immediately,” Senator Manchin said. 

“Some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure from voting machines to power grids are controlled at the state and local level. The National Guard is uniquely ready to protect our elections and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks,” said Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA), the sponsor of companion legislation in the House of Representatives. “I’ve pushed hard on this in the House for the last year because Washington’s national guard is leading the way, and it’s time to give other states the ability to follow our lead so we can be confident in our election systems.” 

The Lowenberg Cyber Act builds on the work of the Washington state National Guard’s 252nd Cyberspace Operations Group, which is one of the first-in-the-nation teams of cyber defenders dedicated to combating cyber criminals, strengthening critical infrastructure, and responding when hackers strike.

Specifically, the bill authorizes $50 million in funding for National Guard Cyber Teams. This funding would be used to establish these teams in every state and territory, as well as to provide training, upgrade hardware and software, and bolster network capabilities.

Specifically, the new National Guard Cyber Teams would:

  • Work with critical infrastructure operators and the private sector to establish and exchange best practices, develop integrated response plans, and conduct exercises
  • Help U.S. Cyber Command communicate classified threat information to states and the private sector
  • Help coordinate federal, state, and local resources during cyber-attacks
  • Respond, with the concurrence of governors and federal authorities, to cyber-attacks and help the private sector with response and recovery

The legislation has drawn strong support from the Washington state National Guard and the National Guard Association of the United States.

"National Guard Cyber Civil Support Teams will work with our public and private partners to prevent, assess and respond to full-spectrum cyber events, including emergencies, terrorist incidents and cyber-attacks. I thank Senator Cantwell for recognizing the urgency of cyber preparedness, especially within the space of critical infrastructure," said Major General Bret Daugherty, the Adjutant General and Commander of the Washington National Guard.

“The convergence of digital cyber-attacks causing very real physical consequences is not a matter of science fiction anymore. It’s a real threat that every American faces right now. The National Guard exists in every state and territory, and these Cyber Civil Support Teams are in a unique position to be that linkage between the Federal government and the states in cyber protection and response, just as they have always been for other emergencies like hurricanes, fires, and other disasters,” said Colonel Gent Welsh, Commander of the 194th Wing of the Washington Air National Guard. “I applaud Sen Cantwell’s leadership in boosting our cyber deterrence capabilities.  Our adversaries need to know we have a team on defense because our adversary’s offense has been running the field for the past decade with relative impunity.”

“Our National Guard members are community based skilled professionals who can and want to protect our states from cyber threats,” said Colonel Scott Humphrey, Vice President of the National Guard Association of Washington. “Located throughout each state and territory, we are the right choice to assist our local communities, states and territories in preventing, assessing and responding to cyber emergencies. We thank Senator Cantwell for her leadership in protecting our vital critical infrastructure.”

The introduction of the bill comes as Senator Cantwell continues her advocacy for increased cybersecurity resources to defend many different aspects of critical infrastructure in the United States. In March of 2017, she called on President Trump to take urgent action to defend the American energy infrastructure from cyber-attacks. Earlier this year, she followed up by requesting the U.S. Department of Energy conduct a cyber threat assessment on the grid. Senator Cantwell has also called on the Trump Administration to invest in cybersecurity and facilitate increased collaboration between the government, private sector, utilities, military, and academia to protect critical infrastructure. And in March of 2018, Senator Cantwell helped to secure $380 million in funding for grants to help states protect their election systems from cyber-attacks.

The legislation is named after Major General Tim Lowenberg, who served as the Washington state Adjutant General from 1999 to 2012. In that position, he commanded all of the Washington Army and Air National Guard forces and served as the Homeland Security Advisor to the governor of Washington state. Maj. Gen. Lowenberg passed away in August of 2017. The bill is named in his honor to recognize his commitment to issues of cybersecurity as the head of the Washington National Guard.

A companion to this legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), with a bipartisan group of 37 House members.

The full text of the legislation can be found HERE.