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U.S. Public, Private Cyber Defenses Being Tested In Simulated Attacks

Cyber Storm III under way; biennial cybersecurity exercise aims to test preparedness

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- No, the U.S. isn't under cyberattack. But this week, government and private security response groups began exercises to see what would happen if it were.

Cyber Storm III, the third in a series of large-scale simulations that test the nation's cyber defenses every other year, is under way. And the simulators aren't messing around.

Here at the Cyber Storm III Exercise Control Cell, located in the Secret Service headquarters building, more than 100 players are creating simulated cyber "events" to test the mettle of the more than 1,000 participants who would respond to a real cyber emergency.

The simulation team has prepared 1,700 to 1,800 "injections" designed to elicit reactions from various U.S. cyber response programs, including the National Cyber Incident Response Plan and the new National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, says Brett Lambo, director of Homeland Security's Cyber Exercise Program.

"We're tracking what was the expected player reaction and what was the actual reaction," Lambo says. "We want to make it as real as possible."

Officials in charge of the exercise would not disclose the names of the private-sector companies participating in this year's exercise, but most of the major federal agencies -- including the National Security Agency, Department of Defense, and White House -- are participating. State and international government responders are joining the exercise as well.

"This gives us a milestone on what our capabilities are," says Phil Reitinger, deputy undersecretary of National Protection and programs directorate for the Department of Homeland Security. "What we learn will make a difference in our day-to-day activities."

The exercise is designed not so much to test responses to specific attacks, but to help identify the relationships and processes needed among the participants in the event of a cyber emergency, Reitinger says. The exercise tests the ability of participants to share information, make decisions, and coordinate their efforts.

All of the Cyber Storm III elements represent actual and potential risks and attacks, the officials say. Participants are using current cyber threats, methods, and adversaries to develop scenarios, they say.

Officials did not say how long the simulation will last or when it will end. There will be an analysis of the simulation and responses, some of which will eventually be made public, Reitinger says.

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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