US plans to develop a virtual network world - to be populated by mirror computers and inhabited by myriad software sim-people "replicants", and used as a firing range in which to develop the art of cyber warfare - have moved ahead.
The so-called "National Cyber Range" project will now move forward to Phase II, and a brace of hefty contracts for this were inked yesterday. US killware goliath Lockheed scoops $30.8m and another $24.8m goes to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
According to Pentagon officials in charge of the Cyber Range programme, Lockheed and Johns Hopkins boffins will "build on the preliminary design created in Phase I, culminating in the completion of a working prototype that demonstrates the capabilities of the National Cyber Range (NCR)... it is anticipated that the NCR will enable a revolution in the Nation's ability to conduct cyber operations".
Previously it has been specified that the Range is to be able to simulate a cyber world on the same scale as the entire internet or the US military Global Information Grid. The Range's unprecedented tech is to be able to create simulated computers, nodes and other network entities of any type - if necessary duplicating a never-before-seen piece of kit "rapidly".
Even more resemblance to a Matrix-esque artificial world is to be achieved with the provision in the Range of "replicants" representing human users, sysadmins and so forth, who will show fear and stress just as real humans do - reacting and changing their behaviour as the frightful code pestilences, mutating malware plagues and other cybergeddon phenomena to be tested in the Range sweep through their universe.
Among the hapless replicant bystanders will move the very cream of America's combat geeks, armed with "technology thrusts [and] classified cyber programs". Against them will manoeuvre the shadowy OpFor (or Opposing Forces) similarly packing weapons-grade, "nation state quality" warez of the most potent sort.
The Range project is at present under the aegis of DARPA, as one might expect: the maverick Pentagon tech bureau is really the only one you'd expect to be in charge of a project to create an entire accurately duplicated internet and simulated IT-using human race purely for the purposes of unleashing cybergeddon upon it.
However if the kit moves forward in the way it is expected to, one might expect the new wave of US military cyber forces to spend much time testing their weapons and polishing their skills within the Range. Security operatives of the 688th Information Operations Wing, for instance, might earn their wings sparring there with the crack hackers of the offensively-oriented 67th Network Warfare Wing in exercises before going out into the real internet to do battle against America's unseen online adversaries.
Blighty, for its part, is to get a cyber range of its own near Portsmouth courtesy of BT and US defence firm Northrop Grumman. ®