Simulated Cyberattack Trains State, City Employees to Protect Boston’s Networks

Employees will go through exercises in how to combat cyberthreats by using teamwork to protect valuable data.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / November 16, 2015

(TNS) -- A group of hackers this week will try to invade networks run by city and state employees, attempting to steal data and wreak havoc on local utilities.

Luckily, it’s a fake Internet, and the hackers are employees of a company that runs cyberattack training simulations.

“We’ve built a city of Boston network, not nearly as high of scale, but it’s good to get the point across,” said Jimmy Astle, director of range operations at SimSpace. “We have a fake copy of the Internet, there’s 10,000-plus websites in there. It looks and feels just like a real network would.”

Dozens of cybersecurity experts — including from the city and state — will go toe to toe and keyboard to keyboard on Friday with SimSpace’s hackers.

“Real attacks will be coming in, spearfish attacks, denial of service, we’ll be extracting data,” Astle said. “We’re going to use attacks you’re going to see from adversaries today.”

The simulation even includes fake news videos as the public learns more and more about the fake breaches.

Still, the exercise is about more than computer war games, and will focus on policies and strategy as much as actual network protection techniques. Working together will also give agencies crucial practice for a real cyberattack, Astle said.

“It’s an opportunity for some of my team members to have some hands-on practice working with other entities to defend the network,” said Greg McCarthy, chief information security officer for Boston. “To be there face-to-face and go through some real life scenarios is always an interesting learning experience.”

Boston has budgeted millions toward cybersecurity this year, including for the development of a next-generation firewall.

Based in Boston, SimSpace has done about a dozen simulations since launching in February.

The company is running the simulation this week free of charge. Eventually SimSpace will sell security products, but those are still in development.

The exercise comes in the wake of multiple breaches at retailers and the Office of Personnel Management hack earlier this year. The government has said personal information — including fingerprints and Social Security numbers — of millions of people was taken. Recently, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which does classified work for the U.S. government along with research, was hacked.

“Obviously, cybersecurity is high up on everybody’s radar right now,” said Hans Olson, cybersecurity and antiterrorism adviser for the state Office of Public Safety. “We deal on a daily basis with different cyber security incidents that are taking place.”

©2015 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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