CIA Overseeing 3-Day War Game on Internet
By TED BRIDIS, AP Technology Writer
The CIA is conducting a secretive war game, dubbed "Silent Horizon,"
this week to practice defending against an electronic assault on the
same scale as the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
The three-day exercise, ending Thursday, was meant to test the ability
of government and industry to respond to escalating Internet
disruptions over many months, according to participants. They spoke on
condition of anonymity because the CIA asked them not to disclose
details of the sensitive exercise taking place in Charlottesville,
Va., about two hours southwest of Washington.
The simulated attacks were carried out five years in the future by a
fictional alliance of anti-American organizations, including
anti-globalization hackers. The most serious damage was expected to be
inflicted in the war game's closing hours.
The national security simulation was significant because its premise --
a devastating cyberattack that affects government and parts of the
economy with the same magnitude as the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide
hijackings -- contravenes assurances by U.S. counterterrorism experts
that such far-reaching effects from a cyberattack are highly
unlikely. Previous government simulations have modeled damage from
cyberattacks more narrowly.
"You hear less and less about the digital Pearl Harbor," said Dennis
McGrath, who helped run three similar war games for the Institute for
Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. "What people call
cyberterrorism, it's just not at the top of the list."
The CIA's little-known Information Operations Center, which evaluates
threats to U.S. computer systems from foreign governments, criminal
organizations and hackers, was running the war game. About 75 people,
mostly from the CIA, gathered in conference rooms and reacted to signs
of mock computer attacks.
The government remains most concerned about terrorists using
explosions, radiation and biological threats. FBI Director Robert
Mueller warned earlier this year that terrorists increasingly are
recruiting computer scientists but said most hackers "do not have the
resources or motivation to attack the U.S. critical information
The government's most recent intelligence assessment of future threats
through the year 2020 said cyberattacks are expected, but terrorists
"will continue to primarily employ conventional weapons." Authorities
have expressed concerns about terrorists combining physical attacks,
such as bombings, with hacker attacks to disrupt communications or
"One of the things the intelligence community was accused of was a
lack of imagination," said Dorothy Denning of the Naval Postgraduate
School, an expert on Internet threats who was invited by the CIA to
participate but declined. "You want to think about not just what you
think may affect you but about scenarios that might seem unlikely."
"Livewire," an earlier cyberterrorism exercise for the Homeland
Security Department and other federal agencies, concluded there were
serious questions about government's role during a cyberattack,
depending on who was identified as the culprit -- terrorists, a foreign
government or bored teenagers.
It also questioned whether the U.S. government would be able to detect
the early stages of such an attack without significant help from
private technology companies.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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