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U.S., Europe Do First Joint Exercise On Cybersecurity

Cyber Atlantic 2011 Exercise involved more than 20 nations that responded to two simulated cyber attacks.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The United States and European Union have conducted their first-ever cybersecurity joint exercise, which was designed to improve collaboration and speed responses to cyber attacks.

Lee Rock, acting director of US-CERT, told InformationWeek in an interview Friday that the Cyber Atlantic 2011 Exercise simulated two cyber-attack scenarios. The U.S. and EU used the exercise to shore up their response to global cyber incidents and figure out better ways to collaborate on attack mitigation, he said.

Rock participated in the event in Brussels on Thursday, and his agency--US-CERT--coordinates response to cyber attacks in the United States and also tracks and manages intrusions into federal networks.

One scenario was modeled after an episode where U.S. government data was illegally accessed and then leaked online via Wikileaks. In the exercise, a targeted attack attempted to extract and publish online secret data from the cyber security agencies of EU members, Rock said.

[ Learn more about security and technology. Read Pentagon CIO's Tech Revamp: 4 Priorities. ]

In a second, the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system in wind turbines in Europe was compromised, and participants had to coordinate response between EU countries that were affected and a U.S. company that manufactured the process logic controller that was being exploited, he said.

EU and U.S. participants worked together to fight off the attacks, maintaining close communications throughout the exercise, Rock said. While the main focus of the exercises was attacks on European assets and how Europe would handle cyber attacks, U.S. participation played a key role in supporting the effort, he said.

"Cyber is a global problem," Rock said. "There is no country that can stand alone in the world of cyber… we have to figure out what is the right methodology for engaging across the Atlantic and sharing information."

The exercise also will teach U.S. officials lessons about how to handle cyber attacks at home and how to better coordinate with other countries when necessary, he added.

The DHS regularly engages in similar exercises in the U.S. through its biennial Cyber Storm series. The exercises are aimed at keeping response teams up to date with their mitigation and prevention efforts for the latest and most sophisticated cyber attacks.

In addition to US-CERT, representatives from the DHS' National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) and the Department of Justice participated in the exercise alongside 16 members of the EU, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, and others.

Ramping up how it collaborates with international partners is a current aim of the DHS, which is the point agency for the federal government on cybersecurity response.

A recent report to Congress from the top U.S. counterintelligence agency cited China and Russia as key perpetrators of cyber espionage, and international collaboration will likely come into play to mitigate these threats.

In addition to working with the EU, the DHS also works with other international partners--including agencies in South America, Canada, Australia, Japan and Korea--to coordinate cybersecurity efforts.

"Ultimately this is something we need to all come to the table on," Rock said. "What can affect one can affect all of us."

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