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News | Jan. 9, 2009

Defense Department to Develop National Cyber Testbed

By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department is developing a national ""cyber range"" to test cybersecurity technology and reduce the vulnerability of government computer systems to networks attacks.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials announced yesterday that they awarded contracts to seven companies to come up with detailed engineering plans to design and build the new testbed. Over the next eight months, each contractor will lead a team of businesses, universities and federal laboratories in the first phase of the National Cyber Range program. DARPA will select from the plans to build the full-scale facility.

""What we are doing is creating kind of a ""Consumer Reports' or an underwriter laboratory-type facility to bring in different types of computer equipment to test and see how secure they are,"" DARPA Program Manager Dr. Michael VanPutte explained.

The facility is to take current testing for government research and development programs to a whole new level -- making it faster and broader and automating much of the manual procedures involved.

""I see it as advancing the state-of-the-art of cyber testing,"" VanPutte said.

The goal, he said, is to identify the most promising security solutions for future computer systems. But the testbed also will help identify and shore up yet-unrecognized vulnerabilities in current systems.

""Today, we really don't have a way to know how secure our solutions are,"" VanPutte said. ""It's like in the dark ages of building cathedrals. We don't understand the science of security. So we are building the national cyber range in order to bring in potential solutions and really stress them and test them in a carefully controlled environment. ""

The effort, part of the interagency Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative announced last year, will benefit researchers not just in the Defense Department, but at all federal departments and agencies.

""This is a national testbed, not a [Defense Department] one,"" VanPutte said. ""So the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, the [Director of National Intelligence] can all come use this testbed when it is up and running. ""

The testbed will help prevent network attacks that VanPutte said have become ""a common and increasing occurrence. ""

""The national cyber range, ultimately, will help provide our leaders and warfighters with greater assurance that our citizens, businesses and our armed forces will be protected against damaging cyber attacks,"" he said.

Melissa Hathaway, director of the Joint Interagency Cyber Task Force, said addressing vulnerabilities within the U.S. computer network infrastructure must become a long-term priority for national and economic security.

""I don't believe that this is a single-year or even a multi-year investment,"" she said. ""It's a multi-decade approach. ""