US government readying massive cybersecurity test

The US government is planning a second massive online attack simulation, called Cyber Storm 2, which will be held next year.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning a large-scale test of the nation's response to a cyberattack, to be held in early 2008.

The test will be a follow-up to the February 2006 Cyber Storm test, which was billed as the largest-ever U.S. government online attack simulation.

Cyber Storm 2 will be conducted in March 2008, said Gregory Garcia, assistant secretary for cyber security and telecommunications with DHS, speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last week. Like the first Cyber Storm, this exercise will evaluate the ability of the public and private sector to provide a coordinated response to a large-scale cyberevent, he said.

The second Cyber Storm test, which is in the planning stages right now, will include a greater number of participants than its predecessor, said Tiffany Jones, senior regional manager for government relations with Symantec Corp. In particular, the number of international participants will be increased, she said.

Symantec was one of about 30 corporations that participated in the first exercise, and will again be involved in Cyber Storm 2, she said.

The first Cyber Storm drew 115 organizations from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Participants included Microsoft, Verisign, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Security Agency.

Next year's test is expected to bring in corporate players from outside of the IT industry that were not involved in the first exercise -- transportation and chemical companies for example, Jones said.

She said that the DHS plans to host further Cyber Storm events beyond 2008 on a biannual basis.

Security experts say that Cyber Storm has improved participants' understanding of who to call in the event of an attack, but hasn't necessarily identified specific vulnerabilities in the nation's computer systems. "What they're trying to do is highlighting the inefficiencies in the process," said Marcus Sachs, deputy director with research group SRI International's Computer Science Laboratory. "They're not really looking for technical solutions."

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