DHS offers first take on Cyber Storm exercise

Department of Homeland Security has completed its second week-long, cyber-security simulation and is now beginning planning for Cyber Storm III in 2010 Cyber Storm II was

With its latest Cyber Storm II exercise now completed, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it expects to release an after-action report analyzing the event, and is now beginning planning for Cyber Storm III in 2010.

Cyber Storm II was a week-long, cyber-security simulation that included mock attacks on computer and transportation systems. But the exercise brought in many more players from government and other industries: about 2,500 people from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Gregory Garcia described a typical Cyber Storm II scenario, in an interview at the RSA Conference in San Francisco Wednesday.

[For more security coverage, see InfoWorld's special report on the RSA Conference 2008 ]

"You have a simulated incident that comes in over the e-mail and it may have only to do with the chemical sector at this point. There's an employee in the chemical sector who's arrested," he said. "He was fired the day before and did something to sabotage the network…so somebody in the chemical sector gets that. 'OK what do I do with that?'"

The exercise even simulated the media's response. "You have mock news reports," Garcia said. "It shows up on the Web as a news story. People are reading that and they have to separate out what's the level of hearsay in the news report."

By participating in Cyber Storm II, emergency response mangers could find out if their plans worked out as expected, and, in particular, if people wound up doing what the planners thought they would do, said Christine Adams, a senior information systems manager at the Dow Chemical Company, speaking during a panel discussion at the conference.

"You think you know how people are going to respond... but they surprise you sometimes," said Cyber Storm II participant Daniel Lohrmann, the chief information security officer with Michigan's Department of Information Technology

Anyone looking for the gory details on how successful attackers were during the latest Cyber Storm will have to wait. Because some of the findings from the exercise are sensitive, the DHS doesn't want to discuss specifics until the after-report is issued, and that's not expected to happen until August at the earliest.

Dow Chemical's Adams did offer one example of a lesson learned before she was cut off by her panel's DHS moderator. "It got to the point where our communications capability was somewhat compromised," she said. "We have some work to do around having the means to get priority telecom service if we need it."

Garcia offered one lesson as well: "It's better to exchange business cards now rather than during a crisis," he said. In fact the relationships built during the months of planning ahead of the Cyber Storm II were invaluable, he said. "If the exercise never even took place, I think people would have come away with a much better appreciation of what their vulnerabilities are, what could potentially happen to them, and who they need to connect with in this vast network."

Cyber Storm II was held during the week of March 10. The next event is expected to happen around the same time of year in 2010.

Garcia would like to see more participants and new industry sectors being the "core players" in the next exercise, he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.