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Surprising Science

Modeling Future Cyberattacks Using A Model-Train Town

An information security training firm has erected a 6-by-8 foot miniature that mimics an actual town right down to the power systems and the (virtual) inhabitants.

What’s the Latest Development?

The SANS Institute, which conducts information security training for the military and industries, has created a model-train town it calls “Cyber City” which it will use to develop education on how to handle a variety of cyberattacks and other threats. The 6-by-8 foot city, which was largely built using simple materials, contains “its own train network, a hospital, a bank, a military complex, and a coffee shop complete with–and this is crucial to the exercise at hand–free Wi-Fi.” It also has a population of 15,000 “virtual citizens” and power systems that work exactly like those found in cities and towns today.

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s all about preparing for future wars, where technology will be the weapon of choice. In recent years hackers have demonstrated the damage they can do on Web sites and databases, but military officials wanted something that would let them see the physical effect of attacks on a town’s population. The SANS team found that going back to old-school materials was more cost-effective and immediate than relying on computer simulations. Instructor Ed Skoudis says, “[T]he threat is changing…it’s now people hacking into computers to cause real-world physical damage.”

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