A working electric grid, banking system, transportation system – complete with train station – and even WiFi. This could describe many real towns in the U.S. except for the fact that its 15,000 residents are virtual.
The SANS Institute, which trains military and government officials on information-security, designed such a city to simulate real-life cyber attacks. Despite its miniature stature at 48 sq.ft., CyberCity’s infrastructure is designed to react technologically and physically just as a real city would under a cyber attack.
The digital networking of everything from bank accounts to personal information and defense systems make our more-convenient world more susceptible to attack. Ed Skoudis, the founder of Counter Hack and an instructor on CyberCity, notes that cyber-based attacks are no longer just about data-hacking and spying:
The threat is changing. It’s still [about digital security], but adding to that, it’s now people hacking into computers to cause real-world physical damage.
The real-world repercussions of cyber attacks grows everyday as more infrastructure components, i.e. power plants,hospitals, and government agencies, are linked digitally. The Pentagon has openly recognized this, with the Secretary of Defense identifying digital attacks as the next battlefield, capable of being ‘as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11.’ And the Pentagon should know, considering the U.S. launched a cyber attack disabling Iranian nuclear infrastructure in 2009 and 2010.
With programmed scenarios, encompassing everything from hackers inducing blackouts at the CyberCity ‘power plant’ to cyber terrorists derailing trains and taking over the transportation system, the model is meant to develop counter-hacking skills among military and government security personnel. The model, which is surrounded by five mounted cameras, provides a video stream and other attack signals for trainees to observe and respond to, thus bettering their own counter-hacking capabilities.
CyberCity is not the only model of this kind for combating cyber terrorism. The National Cyber Range, being developed by DARPA, will represent a scale model of the Internet and allow for more in-depth cyber war-games to be carried out.
The military is obviously no stranger to using simulated environments for training maneuvers, and CyberCity is hopeful that this success will translate to the digital level.