National Guard team talks cybersecurity with Salvadoran military

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Vezeau
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing

National Guard cybersecurity experts from New Hampshire and Maryland met with their Salvadoran Army and civilian counterparts from Sept. 24-28, 2018 to evaluate the Salvadoran Army’s plans to create their first cyber operations unit.

The trip is part of New Hampshire’s State Partnership Program with El Salvador. The SPP links a state's National Guard with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

Assessing the Salvadoran’s cybersecurity and cyberdefense plans was the primary focus. The two teams shared best practices related to network infrastructure, vulnerability management, cyber tools and organizational structure.

"Prior to coming here, we didn't really know what their capabilities were," said Master Sgt. Eric Lewis, a radio frequency transmissions specialist assigned to the 157th Communications Flight. "We were pleasantly surprised."

The National Guard team was comprised of 2nd Lt. Dennis Vasquez from the Maryland Air National Guard, 2nd Lt. Taylor Puksta from the New Hampshire Army National Guard and Master Sgt. Eric Lewis, Master Sgt. Gabriel Howard and Staff Sgt. Alan Dwyer from the New Hampshire National Air National Guard.

According to Chief of Communications (CVI) for the Salvadoran Armed Forces, Col. Aristides Figueroa Castro, cybersecurity and cyberdefense are priorities for the Salvadoran Armed Forces because it allows them to defend against cyber-attacks and to compete with other countries.

“It’s really important for us to have you all here visiting us, because this exchange of information, experience and ideas will allow us to maximize our potential.” said Salvadoran Army Maj. Javier Campos, the chief officer of communications for the Salvadoran Army.

Knowing what is ‘normal’ is an important part of cybersecurity.

“You can’t effectively defend something unless you know what you are defending,” said Dwyer, a cybersystems operations specialist assigned to the 157th Communications Flight. It’s important to have that known baseline, which not only includes network configuration and traffic, but also documentation. Having all that makes it much easier to detect abnormal activity like failing hard drives and network latency.”

According to Puksta, Capt. Leonel Maye, an artillery commander in the Salvadoran Army, has been the main advocate in developing the Salvadorans cybersecurity and cyberdefense systems.

He is the one who really understands the threat and in cyber, thats huge, said Puksta.

According to Maye, hes very excited to think that the Salvadoran Army could be the very first Salvadoran military unit to have an operational cyber security unit.

Everyone worries about computers and IT just functioning, but not so much about securing them, said Maye. I understand it is very important and Im glad higher leadership is taking the same interest in cybersecurity I am. It would be extremely meaningful to me if we can get this up and running.