Pentagon plans to develop a Matrix-style simulated computer world in which to try out the cyber WMDs of tomorrow appear to be moving forward. Reports indicate that the ambitious plans for a "National Cyber Range" - in which weapons-grade government malware would be test-fired much as missiles are on a normal firing range - have now moved forward to the stage of contracts.
Aviation Week reports on a recent interview with executives of weaponry globocorp BAE Systems, in which it appears that BAE's Information Operations Initiative has already inked a deal to work on proposals for the Cyber Range. Other unnamed companies are also believed to be at work.
The trade mag has previously noted that the Washington-DC based Initiative - BAE's cyber arms dealer to the US military and intelligence sectors - runs "aggressive and innovative programs to develop electronic, communications and computer network attack systems".
As Rance Walleston, head of the BAE cyber weaponsmiths, told Av Week:
“We want to change cyber attack from an art to a science... It’s hard to know what you are actually going to get from a test in a laboratory against five computers when the capability you need has to function against five million computers. There’s nowhere to test that... we need the equivalent of a White Sands [Missile Range] for cyber war."
Thus the planned Cyber Range must be able to simulate not just large computer networks teeming with nodes, but also the people operating and using these interlocked networks. These software sim-people - users, sysadmins, innocent network bystanders and passers-by - are referred to in the Range plans as "replicants". It seems clear that they won't know that they are merely simulated pawns in a virtual network wargame designed to test the efficiency of America's new cyber arsenal. They will merely have to live in a terrible Groundhog Day electronic armageddon, where the weapons and players change but destruction and suffering remain eternal.
By now regular readers will be unsurprised to learn that the Cyber Range virtuapocalypse plans emanate from DARPA*, whose barmy boffins are to ordinary loopy scientists as a Möbius strip is to ordinary Froot Loops - that is, cunningly warped in a way which offers twice as much loopiness for a given amount of Froot.
It would seem that DARPA's Cyber Range plans are proceeding roughly along the lines laid down by the agency's boss, Tony Tether, in this presentation (pdf). That should see the simulated cyber warzone up and running as soon as next year, ready to pass under the harrow of BAE's new electronic pestilences, digital megabombs and tailored computer plagues.
Let's hope, as DARPA have requested, that the Range won't have any leaks into the real world - the Pentagon cyber weaponeers do specify that "nothing spills across boundaries".
Assuming, of course, that we're not already in an early version.
The Av Week report is here. ®
*The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency