WASHINGTON – The CIA is conducting a war game this week to simulate an unprecedented electronic assault, on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks, against the United States.
The three-day exercise, known as “Silent Horizon,” is meant to test the ability of government and industry to respond to escalating Internet disruptions over many months, according to participants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the CIA asked them not to disclose details of the sensitive exercise taking place in Charlottesville, Va., about two hours southwest of Washington.
The simulated attacks were carried out five years in the future by a fictional new alliance of anti-American organizations that included anti-globalization hackers. The most serious damage was expected to be inflicted in the closing hours of the war game today.
The national security simulation’s premise – a devastating cyberattack that affects government and parts of the economy on the scale of the 2001 suicide hijackings – contradicts assurances by U.S. counterterrorism experts that such effects from a cyberattack are highly unlikely.
“You hear less and less about the digital Pearl Harbor,” said Dennis McGrath, who has helped run three similar exercises for the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. “What people call cyberterrorism, it’s just not at the top of the list.”
The CIA’s little-known Information Operations Center, which evaluates threats to U.S. computer systems from foreign governments, criminal organizations and hackers, was running the war game.
About 75 people, mostly from the CIA, along with other current and former U.S. officials, gathered in conference rooms and pretended to react to signs of mock computer attacks.