• United States
Senior Editor

DHS completes large-scale cyber attack simulation

Feb 10, 20063 mins

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has completed the first full-scale government-led cyber attack simulation, and officials there called the exercise a “significant milestone.”

DHS officials declined to talk about the results of Cyber Storm, saying they were still evaluating the exercise. But the largest ever government cybersecurity attack simulation was a “significant accomplishment” for DHS, said George Foresman, DHS undersecretary of preparedness.

The exercise was part of the DHS goal of preparing “so that we are ready to meet any type of threat at any time,” Foresman said.

A public report of the results and lessons learned will be released mid-year, said Andy Purdy, acting director of the DHS National Cyber Security Division. DHS will release the results as broadly as possible, with the exception of information deemed too sensitive, Foresman added.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to get any stronger, we’re not going to get any better, unless we capture the lessons learned, share them among the broadest possible audience, and make a full commitment to pushing improvement down the road,” he said.

Cyber Storm, a simulation conducted this month of what DHS called a “sophisticated” cyber attack, involved 115 organizations in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Public agencies and private companies participated, DHS said.

U.S. government agencies participating in Cyber Storm included the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the State Department and the National Security Agency. Among the private companies that volunteered to participate were Microsoft, VeriSign and Symantec.

“The way it’s best described is DHS is the conductor of an orchestra,” Foresman said. “All of these partners … are the various musicians playing beautiful music together creating a symphony of preparedness. We’ve made great progress.”

One of the scenarios involved a simulated attack on the computer systems at an electric utility, causing widespread power outages, DHS officials said. In that type of scenario, part of DHS’ job was to notify other utilities of potential threats, Purdy said. The simulations were done on closed networks, so the public Internet and other systems weren’t affected, DHS officials said.

IT industry participants in the exercise praised DHS for putting the simulation together. “What we’re going to take away is a lot of lessons learned,” said Jerry Cochran, a senior security strategist for Microsoft. “The more we can exercise, the more we can test things, the better we’re all going to get.”

Cybersecurity vendors, working together, have already begun their own review of the exercise and will share the results with each other, said Michael Aisenberg, director of government relations at VeriSign. “That will help us do a better job,” Aisenberg said.

DHS should get a “lot of credit” for reaching out to the private sector during the exercise, added John Sabo, director of security and privacy initiatives at CA. “This is really just the first step,” Sabo said. “We need ongoing exercises, ongoing communication and information.”