The Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps: Like a volunteer fire department for cybersecurity

Are governments truly prepared for major cyber emergencies?

img 0145 Dan Lohrmann

Governor Snyder at Michigan Cyber Summit in 2013.

Back at the Michigan Cyber Summit in October 2013, Governor Rick Snyder announced our new government plan for a: “Rapid response team that would assist the state and industries across Michigan during a major cyber incident.”

The idea was to create a volunteer group of cyber experts who could train together, hone their skills in cybersecurity exercises and be ready to assist the state government in the event a cyber-emergency of “state significance.” (More on what that might look like later.) 

Well the cutting-edge concept has become reality, with the official launch of the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps (MiC3) last week. The MiC3 website is live at: http://www.micybercorps.org.   This blog will cover some of the basics of the problem and why we developed this particular solution.

First, there has been plenty of local coverage our launch, including this Detroit article and news coverage extended all the way to Miami, Florida.

This Michigan public radio interview on the Michigan Cyber Corps answers several questions and also addresses the reasons why cyber experts, such as Raj Patel from Plante Moran, are interested in joining MiC3.

This local TV coverage also mentioned the MiC3 launch during a piece on protecting passwords.

What’s the problem?

State and local governments have long been tested in their abilities to respond to emergency situations such as fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. The activation of state emergency operations centers (SEOCs) has been occurring for decades, and formal processes exist for every state in line with FEMA standards and guidelines.

In Michigan, we have worked to improve our processes around cyber emergencies for more than a decade. Last year, we published the Michigan Cyber Disruption Response Strategy. We have held tabletop exercises to examine our responses capabilities for attacks against critical infrastructure, and we have participated in all four Department of Homeland Security (DHS) CYBERSTORM exercises and National Level Exercise (NLE) 2012.

And yet, we keep asking “what if?”

What if, a major cyber disruption occurs and the Michigan Governor needs to declare a state of emergency. Potential scenarios include a loss of utilities, transportation disruptions or perhaps a major attack against state government computer operations.

In these emergency scenarios, we can certainly request support from federal assets, but what if they are also overwhelmed and unable to provide us with required resources?  No doubt, private sector volunteers will likely step up during such an event, but will we be able to utilize their immense capability if we do not train and exercise together?

Stated another way, how can we coordinate cyber activities and actions in the same way that volunteer firemen coordinate training prior to a neighborhood fire?

The Michigan volunteer cyber corps solution

As stated in the Q/A section of our MiC3 website, here are some answers to common questions:

Q: What is Cyber Civilian Corps?

A: The Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps (MiC3) is a group of trained cyber experts who individually volunteer to provide expert assistance to the state in times of emergency. MiC3 provides rapid response to Governor declared state of emergency cyber incidents. The MiC3 is created in partnerships with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), Michigan State Police, National Guard and other public and private partners. The group includes volunteers from government, education, and business sectors. 

Q: What is MiC3's mission?

A: The mission for the MiC3 group is to work with government, private sector organizations, and volunteers from government, education, and business sectors to create and implement a rapid response team who will respond to Governor declared state of emergency cyber incidents and will provide mutual aid to government, education, and business organizations in the State of Michigan.

Q: What are MiC3's goals? 

A: Provide mutual aid response and assistance to government, education, and business organizations in the State of Michigan as needed during a Governor declared state of emergency; create an environment for team members to improve skills by taking advantage of training opportunities on the Michigan Cyber Range (MCR); and develop and expand partnerships with government, business and education around cyber security.  

Q: Can anyone join the group?

A: Individuals who wish to join the group must have IT and cyber security skills to contribute to the organization. To ensure that the MiC3 members have the appropriate skills and expertise to successfully respond to cyber incidents, they will be provided with access to OnDemand cyber security classes from the Michigan Cyber Range (MCR) and hands on exercises each year. 

I won’t list all of the other questions and answers here. However, I will say that we will start taking applications from Michigan residents to join MiC3 at our website by July 1, 2014.

As mentioned in the radio interview above, we are starting with a pilot group of 10-15 members now, and they are going through many steps to ensure that our processes make sense. We anticipate holding an exercise in late July 2014 to test the initial team and examine several parts of the concept of operations.

We believe that this initial cyber capability will create something exciting and enduring. As cyberspace changes and as threats increase, we can learn from volunteers and cyber experts from diverse backgrounds to strengthen our cyber defenses. At the same time, we believe that the threat is real and we must be prepared.

As former DHS Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said last year:   “Our country will, at some point, face a major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy and the everyday functioning of our society,”

The question we keep asking in Michigan is: Are we ready?

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