Terror attack mock-up has a cyber angle

The Homeland Security Department and dozens of federal, state and local agencies will launch a simulated five-day terrorist attack on May 12 designed to include a small role for cyberwarfare, officials said this afternoon.

The game will involve a hypothetical attack by a radiological "dirty bomb" in Seattle and a biological attack via infectious pneumonic plague in Chicago, officials said.

HSD Secretary Tom Ridge announced the exercise today at a news conference with officials of the State Department, the two cities and HSD's Office of Domestic Preparedness.

The attack game will include a small element of computer warfare, said Ted Macklin, assistant director of the preparedness office.

"There will be an administrative tabletop exercise with a cyberattack," Macklin said. It will not focus on an emergency operations center takedown but on the ability of state and local authorities to recognize a cyberattack, he said.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles, speaking after the press conference, said that participants will begin with the assumption that their computers will work, but "that could be an area they surprise us with."

The Topoff 2 exercise is built on experience gained in the initial Topoff 1 terrorist attack simulation carried out three years ago. In the months since Topoff 1, ODP'formerly a part of the Justice Department'has carried out several small exercises to refine and spread the knowledge gained in the first exercise.

Macklin said officials had chosen the dirty bomb and biological attack scenarios based on advice from officials who had participated in Topoff 1.

An ODP official who is working on Topoff 2 said HSD has contracted with Dartmouth College's Institute of Security and Technology studies to prepare a "sand table" analysis of a cyberattack, in coordination with Seattle.

To prevent public concern about the wargame, Ridge emphasized that no hazardous substances would be released in the simulation. If a terrorist attack or natural disaster affecting the two cities should happen during the simulation, officials will cancel or limit the exercise as appropriate.

"We will push the envelope at all levels," Ridge said, referring to the game planners' efforts to concoct a realistic and challenging scenario. "We are confident we will learn much."

The facsimile attack includes roles for a simulated TV network called VNN, as well as participants who will portray the president and his press secretary. Ridge said he would play himself.

Game designers and administrators have drawn a bright line between the simulated news media in the game and the real news media, who will have access to large parts of the unclassified exercise, officials said.


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