A GTA-led, multi-agency security exercise aimed at sharpening technical response to ransomware attacks has received a first-place award from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). Cyber Dawg, held in May 2019 at the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta, was honored with the 2020 State IT Recognition Award in the category of Cybersecurity. NASCIO announced the award on October 13 during its annual conference.

According to NASCIO, the awards "showcase the use of information technology to address critical business problems, more easily connect citizens to their government, improve business processes, and create new opportunities that improve the lives of citizens." Ninety projects were submitted by states for the prestigious awards program.

Cyber Dawg, now an annual event, brought together cybersecurity professionals from several agencies for an intense three days as Georgia National Guard security specialists staged mock SamSam ransomware attacks. The exercise provided a safe zone where participants could practice and learn. Then, they returned to their respective agencies with broader experience and new cyber defense tools at their disposal.

Agency participants saw firsthand that cyber defense plans and tactics cannot be static. If they are to be effective, plans and tactics must constantly morph to address new attack variables and incorporate newly arising security tools.

The exercise format was designed by the Georgia National Guard Cyber Protection Team and incorporated elements of ransomware, replicating actual attacks that have taken place across the nation. GTA's Office of Information Security hosted the event and provided the open source cybersecurity tools used in the exercise. Participants, including Guardsmen, were divided into eight teams - some attackers, some defenders, others playing the part of intel teams, and others maintaining Cyber Dawg's staged IT environment.

Georgia has an impressive record of projects named as finalists and first-place honorees in NASCIO's awards program. The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) received a first-place award in 2018 for Georgia Gateway, the state's consolidated system for determining eligibility for an array of public-assistance programs. In addition, technology projects from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, GTA, Augusta University, and Augusta Technical College were named finalists in the 2019 awards program.

First-place awards were also presented to DHS in 2017 for its Child Support Services Mobile App and GTA in 2016 for its Web Accessibility Initiative. The University System of Georgia was presented a first-place award in 2014 for its integrated learning platform and named a finalist for an online information repository.

NASCIO is the nation's leading resource for state CIOs and a prominent advocate for technology policy at all government levels. Learn more about NASCIO and its awards program.