Did you play with model cities as a kid? Well, our C4I Directorate built their own model city that teaches our best coders how to stop malicious hacks and keep our vital infrastructure safe.
Welcome to Sim City
Over the past year, hacking has leapt from the silver screen into the headlines. Major hacks have done major damage on a political and military level, but a skilled hacker can completely disrupt day-to-day life. If a malicious actor hacks into a city’s electrical grid, they can shut the whole thing down.
Without electrical power, just about everything in our society and economy goes dead: respirators, heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, food supplies, banking, the stock market, and much more, including, of course, the lights.
The C4I Directorate needed a way to clearly relate this reality to its incoming programmers. So they built what they call “Sim City,” a platform that has a model city built on it. The city has residential areas, commercial buildings, a railroad system, a runway, a military base, a missile defense system, a stock market, an electricity grid, and a radio station. All of them are used to simulate different cyber attack scenarios.
The soldiers train to keep the model city safe from attack. And if an attack succeeds, they can see the result directly in front of them. Through demonstrations of real-life consequences, they learn to stop them in time.
The Reality of Cyber Attacks
Hacking represents a real, global, threat. “IDF (Zahal) activity is based on a huge amount of different computer systems,” says Cpl. Hagar, a commander at the Cyber Defense 101 training course. “If someone manages to hack these systems, he will have access to passwords, data, information about people, the layout of our forces, and more.”
In one scenario, terrorists hack into the train system. If the soldiers don’t stop the hackers, the train will speed up and derail, killing the passengers inside. The soldiers need to act quickly and efficiently to stop the attack. In another scenario, a cyber attack hits a missile defense system and attempts to launch a missile directly at the city.
The hackers are also able to take over the commercial building. They can infiltrate the stock market and cause a financial crisis, or attack the city’s electrical grid, causing a complete power outage.
New Challenges Require Innovative Approaches
“Sim City is one of the teaching devices we use for cyber defense training. It challenges and teaches our soldiers in an interesting way. We really want to show and emphasize the fact that the cyber world is also a physical world, and that there are real consequences when information and access falls into the wrong hands,” explained Cpl. Hagar.
Besides Sim City, the cyber defense soldiers work on investigating, developing, and bringing new defensive systems online. Every day, teams investigate the network and keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Another team operates a cyber war room, keeping track of the entire system in real time – if something happens they can respond immediately. The instructors also pit teams against each other; one team attacks while the other has to defend.
We know the havoc that malicious hackers can cause once they break into a system. To stop them, we need to constantly evolve – and that begins in the classroom, where our coders learn in a dynamic, real life environment.