WASHINGTON, March 12, 2008— -- The Department of Homeland Security has begun to conduct a multination cybersecurity drill to learn how to respond to the increasing number of cyberattacks that have been launched against U.S. computer infrastructure and financial networks worldwide.
The drill, called Cyberstorm II, follows an initial maneuver conducted by officials in March 2006 and is similar to other simulations run by DHS called TOPOFF, which is short for Top Officials.
"The exercise will simulate a large-scale coordinated cyberattack on critical infrastructure sectors, including the chemical, information technology, communications, and transportation (rail/pipe) sectors," according to a statement from the DHS.
The wide-ranging cybersecurity drill involves computer security officials from five countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Eleven federal government agencies will participate, including the FBI and the Department of Defense, along with representatives from nine states and 40 private sector companies.
A DHS official briefed on the program said the drill "is not directly tied to any ongoing threat;" there have been recent concerns about cyberattacks and renewed concern about acts of cyberterrorism.
Senior officials, including Director National Intelligence Michael McConnell, have recently cited growing worry about cyberthreats from hackers, terrorists and organized crime.
In recent congressional testimony, McConnell cited anxiety about hacking from China and Russia, and about the practice of data destruction, as opposed to traditional hacking, to exploit information.
"The threat that also concerns us a great deal, and maybe even more so, is if someone has the ability to enter information systems they can destroy data," McConnell said. "And the destroying data could be something like money supply, electric power distribution, transportation sequencing and that sort of thing."
The destruction of computer data is easier to do; it would be disruptive, and malicious hackers would not be as concerned about hiding their tracks if they were stealing government or financially sensitive data.
A cyberattack against the Baltic nation of Estonia last May shows the vulnerability these types of attacks pose. The nation's government, banks and newspapers' Web sites were affected for days by cyberattacks, which were believed to have originated from Russia, according to officials briefed on the matter.
In January, President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 54, which directed the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency to establish a computer security strategy initiative.
Computer cyberattacks and data destruction could cripple the banking sector and other key financial transactions.
Although the Defense Department and State Department have relatively secure systems, McConnell said, the rest of the government is "not prepared to deal with it. That's the reason for the [president's] initiative."