Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


04:50 PM
Connect Directly

'CyberCity' Faces Its First Attacks Next Month

SANS' model city gives military, government cybersecurity experts a cyberattack reality check

Military cybersecurity experts next month will undertake a mission to protect the six-foot-by-eight-foot NetWars CyberCity scale model just off the Jersey Turnpike that has its own hospital, cybercafe, bank, and power plant, from its first round of cyberattacks.

CyberCity is the brainchild of Ed Skoudis, director of NetWars CyberCity and an instructor with SANS, which runs the newly constructed, small-scale city that on the surface looks more like a hobbyist's collector's item. The goal of the project was to help the military's so-called "cyberwarriors" simulate how cyberattacks affect both the logical and physical worlds.

"Previous simulation environments that were built were computer-centered -- how a computer attacks another computer systems and the data they house, which is important," Skoudis says. "But, increasingly, [attacks] are moving more toward getting access and control of computers so they can manipulate real-world things."

Skoudis came up with the idea of building a model of a city a couple of years ago after meeting with U.S. Air Force security officials asking for better ways to train their "cyberwarriors" on the kinetic effects. "Just showing bits running across a network is hard," he says, but showing a power grid go dark or a train derailing is more effective.

With the help of a local hobby shop, Skoudis and his team constructed CyberCity for use by military and government personnel. It runs off of five laptops and USBs locally, with a VPN connection to some "big iron" at SANS' network operations center, he says. "There are virtualized servers for the [CyberCity] ISP, bank servers," etc., he says.

And it was all built for less than $1 million.

"When you lose control of cyberspace, you lose control of the physical world," said Eric Bassel, director at the SANS Institute, in a statement. "The threat of kinetic effect is real. We have seen detailed evidence of foreign nations deep inside the computer networks of our financial services companies, manufacturing companies and critical infrastructure. The attacks have been going on for many years, yet we have made only limited strides in fighting them off. With NetWars CyberCity, we hope to turn the tables by providing our first-line cyberdefenders with the necessary skills and hands-on training to fend off online attacks and regain control of cyberspace."

NetWars CyberCity contains four quadrants: a rocket launcher; a power plant; commercial businesses including a bank, hospital, and coffee shop; and a residential area of houses. "All are powered by its power company," Skoudis says. Video cameras are configured around the model so the participants can view the happenings there from their remote locations.

It's currently in alpha-test mode by a handful of security experts, and the NetWars competition next month in Washington, D.C., will feature the first beta test mission, which Skoudis says will be a mission with the hospital, bank, and ISP.

"By March, we'll have beta missions on the power grid and coffee shop," he says.

Is CyberCity safe from overzealous players and outside hackers? "It's always a concern. There's that possibility," he says. "If it gets hacked, it would be a bummer, but we can reset it all. We're trying to build it so legitimate participants hacking it can't physically destroy it."

The model city has already survived one disaster: Hurricane Sandy, which after 12 days without power in the New Jersey area, slowed down some of its development. But the city itself remained dry and intact, according to Skoudis.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Inside the Ransomware Campaigns Targeting Exchange Servers
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/2/2021
Beyond MITRE ATT&CK: The Case for a New Cyber Kill Chain
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  3/30/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-11
In the standard library in Rust before 1.2.0, BinaryHeap is not panic-safe. The binary heap is left in an inconsistent state when the comparison of generic elements inside sift_up or sift_down_range panics. This bug leads to a drop of zeroed memory as an arbitrary type, which can result in a memory ...
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-11
In the standard library in Rust before 1.49.0, String::retain() function has a panic safety problem. It allows creation of a non-UTF-8 Rust string when the provided closure panics. This bug could result in a memory safety violation when other string APIs assume that UTF-8 encoding is used on the sam...
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-11
In the standard library in Rust before 1.49.0, VecDeque::make_contiguous has a bug that pops the same element more than once under certain condition. This bug could result in a use-after-free or double free.
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-11
In the standard library in Rust before 1.50.0, read_to_end() does not validate the return value from Read in an unsafe context. This bug could lead to a buffer overflow.
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-11
In the standard library in Rust before 1.52.0, the Zip implementation has a panic safety issue. It calls __iterator_get_unchecked() more than once for the same index when the underlying iterator panics (in certain conditions). This bug could lead to a memory safety violation due to an unmet safety r...