US agencies join Brits in cyber-war games

The Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency and a number of other US agencies joined British officials and private companies for a three-week cyber-war game last month, it has been revealed. The game tested 14 teams on a range of simulated attacks on two continents.

The annual exercise, which was held in June at a military facility in Suffolk, Virginia, intended to prepare the US military, security officials and more for what some feel is the next frontier in warfare: cyber-attacks. Officials at the Pentagon have plans to ramp up the frequency due to the growing threat of a large-scale cyber-attack.

A big difference in these war games, which came just seven months after a similar initiative between the US and UK governments, was the invitation to banking and energy officials and others to participate since the US government sought to test various industries that could be forced to respond if a cyber-attack were to occur. The US government and various companies have been hit by computer attacks. Hackers have stolen a number of things from back account information to government security clearance forms.

More sophisticated attacks could take many forms and potentially disrupt water-treatment plants, shutting down the money supply or disconnecting the electrical grid. Although unsuccessful in the US to date, some military leaders believe foreign countries or criminal groups could attempt attacks such as these in the future.

Scenarios in the war game were rolled out and either intensified or dialled back for each team, depending on performance. Many teams had similar results despite some having more experience than others.

Cyber-attacks the teams dealt with ranged from ones that could be carried out by unsophisticated hackers to more complex attacks by foreign countries with advanced cyber-weapons.

“They say the best steel is forged and tempered in the hottest furnace,” said coast guard rear admiral Kevin E. Lunday, director of exercises and training at US Cyber Command in an interview last week. He added: “We put them under that pressure so that they can learn.”