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DARPA Builds Cyberwarfare Proving Ground

DARPA Builds Cyberwarfare Proving Ground

The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency has announced the creation of the National Cyber Range, a scale model of the Internet built to test theoretical security scenarios and practice cyber wargames. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security also announced a new program to share critical information about cyberthreats.

News of two cybersecurity efforts undertaken by the United States government surfaced Friday.

One is the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) Cyber Pilot, in which the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will share classified threat information and the knowledge of how to use that with participating members of the U.S. defense industry.

The other is the National Cyber Range, a project overseen by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in which a scale model of the Internet will be built to test futuristic security scenarios and carry out war games.

The defense industry "is part of the information supply chain and a potential attack vector," Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET, told TechNewsWorld.

As for the National Cyber Range, Abrams expects it to "be highly secretive and separate from everyone else except to siphon relevant data from other research and security companies."

However, the National Cyber Range may be more sizzle than steak, Charles Dodd, a government cybersecurity consultant, told TechNewsWorld.

"None of these guys takes a good look at what's needed," Dodd said. "It doesn't do any good to build a go-kart to run on an Indy (Indianapolis 500) track."

The DIB Cyber Pilot's protection of defense industry companies also came under criticism from Dodd.

"Private companies own 82 percent of the United States' critical infrastructure," Dodd said. "The first responder won't be the DHS; the attack will be over before they know what's happening."

The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and DARPA did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Some Information About the DIB Cyber Pilot

The DIB Cyber Pilot, announced by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn at a workshop on global security in Paris, France, will see the DHS and the DoD helping defense industry firms defend their computer networks from attack or exploitation.

Theft of design data and engineering information from these networks undermines the technological edge the U.S. has over potential adversaries.

The Pentagon's computer systems have been attacked frequently, and one strike in 2008 was believed to have been launched by Russia.

Current countermeasures have slowed the exploitation of U.S. defense industry networks but haven't stopped it, and that led to the establishment of the DIB Cyber Pilot with some defense industry companies, all of which volunteered for the program, Lynn said.

The U.S. government will not monitor, intercept or store any private-sector communications through the DIB Cyber Pilot program, Lynn pledged.

The DIB project will need input from the private sector, ESET's Abrams said.

"There isn't a single organization on the planet that has demonstrated the ability to tackle such a project single-handedly," Abrams explained. "For maximum effectiveness, the DoD will need to primarily be a clearinghouse, but could augment the effort with their own labs."

The U.S. military is still way behind potential adversaries when it comes to cyberwarfare, Dodd said.

"We're led today by a military that thinks if you can dominate the land, sea and air, you've got the game," Dodd elaborated. "We have no direct correlation in cyberwarfare, so when I do a briefing at the Pentagon, I have to speak very slowly and try not to use big words."

Looking at the National Cyber Range

The National Cyber Range is part of the U.S. government's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. This seeks to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity.

DARPA began working on the National Cyber Range project back in 2008.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a US$5.4 million contract for the initial development phase of the National Cyber Range. It will lead a team of cyber-technologists from seven companies to work with DARPA on engineering the National Cyber Range.

The Range will replicate complex, large-scale, heterogeneous networks, as well as users in current and future DoD weapons systems and operations.

It will allow multiple, independent experiments to be conducted simultaneously on the same infrastructure, and enable testing of Internet-scale and global information grid-scale research.

Lockheed Martin did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Assessing the Cybersecurity Programs

"I was at the grand opening when the Grand Pooh-Bah got things going," Dodd said. "When people start talking about the Cyber Range, it's the equivalent of using a shotgun to go at an aircraft carrier."

The U.S. needs an infrastructure overhaul to make its efforts in cyberspace viable, Dodd suggested.

"Our penetrations have grown, not gone away," Dodd pointed out. "We've just announced that we'll consider cyberattacks an act of war. But the CIA's website has just had its clock cleaned," he added, referring to the hacker group LulzSec's recent attack on CIA.gov.

"How critical the programs are to bolstering our cybersecurity will depend completely upon their execution," ESET's Abrams said. "Done wrong, they will not help."


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