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APL Leads Team to Develop National Cyber Test Range

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded APL $7.3 million to help develop a "cyber range" to test cyber security technologies and protect government computer networks from attacks.

Viruses, hackers, and other cyber threats are now a part of daily life. Malicious activity directed at government computer networks is growing more sophisticated, more targeted, and more prevalent. "The threat of terrorists seeking to exploit the Internet to cause very real damage to the nation's network of information systems—and therefore, its security—is very real" says Timothy Galpin, APL's Infocentric Operations Mission Area Executive.

Experts say that setting up a cyber range would allow the nation to research and realistically test methods to thwart such attacks. But in the world of cyber operations, such tests are infrequent, expensive, and time-consuming. So DARPA has asked an APL-led group and seven other teams to create detailed engineering plans for a National Cyber Range that will:

  • Conduct an unbiased, quantitative, and qualitative assessment of information assurance and survivability tools in a representative network environment;
  • Replicate complex, large-scale, and heterogeneous networks and users in current and future Department of Defense weapon systems and operations;
  • Enable multiple, independent, simultaneous experiments (at different security levels) on the same infrastructure;
  • Enable realistic testing of Internet/Global Information Grid-scale research;
  • Develop and deploy revolutionary cyber testing capabilities; and
  • Enable use of scientific methods for rigorous cyber testing.

"Each of these alone presents significant challenges that have not necessarily been met by the test beds and cyber ranges in operation today," says Peter Dinsmore, the Principal Investigator for the effort centered in the Applied Information Sciences Department (AISD). "We are leading a team of nine organizations to create a test range that, when fully operational, will meet all of these requirements and enable leap-ahead advances in cyber technologies."

"Cyber-testing capabilities have grown significantly over the past few years, with many lessons learned by the APL team," says Project Manager Angela Thompson, of AISD. "We will be leveraging both our own previous efforts and the efforts of many others in this community."

APL will submit its plans to DARPA, which will then make decisions on future work. Options include two other phases for a critical design review and production of prototypes, and then development of the full-scale cyber range.