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US Matrix-style Cyberwar firing range moves forward

Sim-people's endlessly repeated armageddon draws nearer

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The US military's plans to create a cyberwarfare firing range in which to test cyber weapons and train the cyber warriors of tomorrow is to continue, with a further $10.77m of funding just announced.

Under the National Cyber Range project, the wacky weaponeers of DARPA have long planned to create a walled-off network battleground on the same scale as the actual internet or the US military Global Information Grid. This network is to be populated by software "replicants", playing the parts of human sysadmins, users etc – innocent bystanders in the devastating digital warfare taking place around them.

The warfare will usually be conducted by US military cyber forces, armed to the teeth with "technology thrusts [and] classified cyber programs". Battling the cream of America's combat geeks will be the shadowy OpFor (Opposing Forces), armed with weapons-grade "nation-state quality" network weaponry of their own.

The Range and its internal population of silicon simulants was supposed to be demonstrated in July, concluding Phase II of the project. However yesterday's funding announcement suggests that problems have been encountered. A "Phase II B" effort will now be undertaken by Lockheed Martin Global Training & Logistics for $10,778,746. We are told:

The contractor will build on the preliminary design of the National Cyber Range (NCR) created in Phase I ... and tasks that have been accomplished in Phase II ... The specific tasks under Phase II-B include: correction of remaining Phase II deficiencies; demonstration of technologies developed in Phase II; correction of any software/hardware issues that prevent robust prototype operation; providing clients with pre-experiment support, experiment execution, and post-experiment reports; execution of a portfolio experiments supporting cyber development; completion and maintenance of Certification and Accreditation of the Prototype at a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) classification level; and transition of the NCR prototype capabilities to existing ranges. The contractor will develop a business model for operating the range during and beyond Phase II-B.

Which certainly sounds as if there is plenty left to do before the Cyber Range is actually good to go. However the "existing ranges" remark appears to confirm that the US military already possesses some kind of cyberwarfare test facilities, perhaps not as snazzy as the simulant-populated DARPA one, but nonetheless up and running already. ®

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