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Partnering With Ukraine on Cybersecurity Paid Off, Leaders Say

A year ago, a hunt forward 10-member team of the U.S. Cyber Command's Cyber National Mission Force arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The Marine Corps major leading that team called back and she said, "We're gonna be here for a bit," said Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency/chief, Central Security Service. 

Nakasone spoke on a panel today at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. 

That team grew from 10 to 39 people, working with Ukraine to strengthen its cyber defenses and provide reassurance. It paid off big-time as Russia launched its invasion, he said. 

The lesson: presence, persistence and the value of partnerships is what matters most, he said. 

People work on laptops.
Cyber exercise AvengerCon VII, hosted every fall by Maryland Innovation and Security Institute in Columbia, Md., to benefit the hackers of the U.S. Cyber Command community and the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade (Cyber), returned for a hybrid in-person and virtual event, Dec. 1, 2022.
Photo By: Steven Stover, DOD
VIRIN: 221201-O-PX639-200N

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, industry, academia, as well as foreign allies and partners are among those that the Defense Department works with closely, he said. 

A prime example is Cybercom partnering with the FBI and CISA, to ensure safe and secure elections, he mentioned. 

"We generate really good insights. We share intelligence and information with the FBI and CISA. And then, we take action against adversaries who are going to try to do us harm," Nakasone said. 

The past year, the NSA released 24 unclassified cybersecurity advisories regarding what to expect in terms of Russian attacks on such things as the U.S. critical infrastructure, he said. 

Frank Kendall, secretary of the Air Force, who also spoke on the panel, said regarding military cyber systems, "If we put the resources into them, we can be reasonably cybersecure. … But [enemy] tactics will continue to evolve. They're going to get more sophisticated over time as we build better defenses." 

A group of Marines work at desks with computer monitors.
Steel Knight
Marines assigned to 9th Communication Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, employ defensive cyber tactics in support of exercise Steel Knight 23 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 1, 2022.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Amelia Kang
VIRIN: 221201-M-LO557-1187N

Over the last few decades, America's ability to secure against cyberattacks has improved pretty dramatically, he added. 

"You're never going to be perfect, but you can be highly resilient and you can be at a point where you if you get an unexpected attack, you can recover," Kendall said. 

When Russia attacked, Ukraine was not able to entirely defeat the cyber threat but they were able to block a lot of its impact, he said.

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