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PA National Guard cyber supports 2019 election

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig
  • Pennsylvania National Guard
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- Approximately 30 members of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and Army National Guard joined state agencies at three locations Nov. 5 to help ensure the security of the commonwealth’s election.

A Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) team focused on network monitoring, while teams at Fort Indiantown Gap and Horsham Air Guard Station concentrated on social media reporting.

“The cyber team is essential because from past experience, there has been interference in prior elections and Pennsylvania has been targeted,” said Maj. Christine Pierce, Pennsylvania defensive cyber operations element team chief. “It’s a critical mission because there is a valid threat out there.”

The PEMA team ensured that public-facing state websites like the election returns site operated without interruption while the other teams monitored social media.

“Election Day is not just about cyber for us,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general, who added that the Guard usually would not respond to a power outage unless there is a threat to life or property, but “Election Day is different. We’re here to keep those polls open. The idea is to have all polling stations open and available, to include the electronic systems.”

The focus of the Pennsylvania Guard members activated Nov. 5 was cybersecurity, with several points of vulnerability.

“There is the potential for the voting systems themselves to be hacked into, but they are not networked. Cybersecurity is most critical when the counties are consolidating the votes and electronically transmitting the data to the Department of State, which certifies the elections,” said Pierce.

The Army cyber team and the 112th Cyber Operations Squadron have been working together for years on the elections initiative, she said.

Added Carrelli: “We’ve been working for years to get to this one day. You can’t just treat this as a single-day event; election security is every day.”

Since 2016, the Pennsylvania Guard cyber branch has partnered with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and expanded to work with the private sector, colleges and universities, and a range of agencies at the local, state and federal levels.