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US cybersecurity defences fail to thwart mock cyberattack

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Website security in corporate America

Critical US electronic systems have failed to withstand a simulated cyberattack.

Participants in a recent cyber-warfare exercise told Reuters that the exercise highlighted problems in leadership, communications and readiness. The two-day exercise brought together 230 government agencies, private firms and other participants. Participants were split into two groups - attackers and defenders - before each developed tactics for attacking and defending critical infrastructure systems, such as those controlling banking, telecommunications and utilities.

The basic scenario involved exercises in electronic disruption accompanying a national emergency, a sequence of events played out in Estonia last year and more recently in Georgia. Defenders drew on established defence procedures but these turned out to be inadequate, for reasons not explained in any detail by participants.

"There isn't a response or a game plan," said Mark Gerencser, a senior vice president at the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting service, which organised the simulation. "There isn't really anybody in charge," he added, Reuters reports.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff added that international laws need to be updated to provide a framework for cybercrime responses.

Without knowing the details of the simulation it's difficult to speculate on what lessons might be learned. On the plus side, lessons learnt through the exercise can be used to update practices and procedures. The basic conclusion of the exercise comes as little surprise, even without considering the built-in reluctance of cybersecurity experts to declare government security defences - a move likely to point towards an early retirement - a done deal.

Attackers always have the advantage over defenders in cybersecurity and, by extension, cyber-warfare. Problems such as maintaining extended supply lines or knowing the terrain on which battles are fought really translate into the sphere of cybersecurity. ®

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