DHS runs drill to test readiness for online attack

The Homeland Security Department on Friday concluded a weeklong exercise aimed at assessing public- and private-sector responses to cyber attacks on the nation's critical infrastructure.

Operation Cyber Storm's mission was to assess interagency coordination, identify policy issues and information-sharing capabilities, and pinpoint the challenges that emergency responders face. The department's cyber-security division spearheaded the exercise, which included 115 federal and state agencies and organizations, the public sector, and foreign governments.

The goal of the exercise is to develop a national response system and implement it across all industry and government sectors, Andy Purdy, the department's cyber czar, said at a press conference. The exercise is required by Congress and a presidential directive on national preparedness. An after-action report will be released this summer.

The scenarios in the test, which included pre-scripted, simulated attacks on energy and transportation infrastructures, aimed to disrupt government operations and impact the public's confidence in the system, Purdy said.

"We are increasingly prepared to communicate and coordinate responses to a cyber attack," Purdy said.

The operation offered no single command center for responses, so the department's role was that of "the conductor of the orchestra," said George Foresman, Homeland Security's undersecretary for preparedness. He said the department is to serve as a "crisis coordination point" to detect attacks, alert stakeholders, coordinate responses and provide technical assistance.

Improving coordination with the private sector was critical to the exercise, Purdy said. An estimated 85 percent of critical infrastructures, includes those in the telecommunications, financial and utility sectors, are in private hands. Computer viruses and Internet attacks result in an estimated $80 billion in losses for U.S. companies and consumers.

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, said he thought the exercise was a step in the right direction. In observing about 90 minutes of it on Wednesday at the U.S. Secret Service headquarters, Paller said he saw improvement over past incident-response tests because it involved company and agency officials, rather than consultants contracted by the government.

"I looked around and there was the Red Cross security guy, the main technology guy at Wachovia," Paller said. "Last time they did it, neither the people nor the scenarios had enough credibility to matter."

The need for customer confidence often keeps companies from acknowledging cyber attacks, Paller said, but exercises like Operation Cyber Storm let the right people meet and gain confidence in each other.

Paller said the exercise had a right mix of everyday cyber attacks and major attacks of national significance, such as an Internet-based assault on an electrical network.

Other private-sector participants included Computer Associates, Electronic Data Systems, Microsoft, Symantec and VeriSign. The Commerce, Defense, Energy, Justice, Transportation and Treasury departments, as well as the CIA, National Security Agency and officials from Michigan, Montana and New York, also were among the participants.

Chengi Jimmy Kuo, senior fellow at McAfee, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based security company, said the five days he spent in the Secret Service headquarters' basement were educational from a communications standpoint.

"The tests primarily tested who contacted who with what information at what time or whether they contacted anyone at all," Kuo said. "They tested the phone trees. It was good to see people go through all of that."

Bob Dix, executive vice president for public affairs and corporate development at Citadel Security Software, another participant in the exercise, said the drill signified an important first step by the Homeland Security Department on cyber preparedness.

Daniel Pulliam contributed to this article.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.