The U.S. government's efforts to prevent terrorist attacks are not limited to air and land security. This week in Washington, officials conducted the first full-scale cyber security exercise, aimed at protecting the nation's information technology systems. Exercise, dubbed Cyber Storm, was a coordinated effort involving more than 100 public, private and international agencies and corporations.
Cyber space has become an important part of the nation's infrastructure. An attack against information systems could cause electricity outages, disrupt rail and air travel, and wreak havoc on telecommunications and financial systems.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted Cyber Storm. Undersecretary for Preparedness, George Foresman, said the aim of the exercise was to learn where preparation and response efforts are vulnerable.
"Cyber storm exemplified the importance of public and private sector and international entities working together and in concert and in coordination to prepare and to protect our citizens, our businesses and, frankly, our national interests," said Foresman.
Officials said all of the scenarios simulated over the four-day long exercise were planned and conducted in a closed and secure environment that did not affect real computer networks. Although they were reluctant to discuss the various scenarios in detail, Andy Purdy, an official with the National Cyber Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security, talked about one such simulation: an attack on a utility company's computer system.
"We wanted to highlight the critical nature of cyber security and its interconnectedness to physical infrastructure, and exercise coordination and communication between public and the private sector," said Purdy.
Private sector companies participated in Cyber Storm from the planning phase through this week's exercise. John Sabo, the director of security and privacy initiatives with a large computer software company, called CA, explained the importance of involving private companies in Cyber Storm.
"The private sector essentially operates, at least in the U.S. and often globally, the bulk of our IT [information technology] infrastructure - the networks, the software, the hardware, we run operation centers," said Sabo. "So it's vital if you are going to have a national capability to respond to a significant cyber event to have the private sector involved in the exercise."
The federal government spent $3 million to plan and execute Cyber Storm. Officials say a full review of the exercise and what was learned will take several months.