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Wisconsin arming itself for cyber warfare

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As a military man, Major General Donald Dunbar knows that no battle plan, no matter how sound, survives an encounter with the enemy. It’s a fog-of-war principle that argues not against planning but for the ability to make adjustments on the fly.

The same applies to the fog of cyber war, and that’s why Dunbar, adjutant general with the Wisconsin National Guard, has forged an alliance with the state of Wisconsin and private businesses to develop a strategy to defend the homeland from cyber attacks. Not just any cyber attack but one that knocks the electrical grid out of commission for a prolonged period of time.

To see through the kind of thick fog a cyber disruption would bring, Dunbar and David Cagigal, chief information officer for the state of Wisconsin, have led the formation of a state cyber disruption response strategy involving critical infrastructure operators such as utility companies and communications networks.

The strategy is only the first step in addressing a prolonged grid power outage. Based on information gleaned during the 2016 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium produced by WTN Media, limiting the impact of a cyber disruption event begins with protecting the “critical nodes” of infrastructure system from the cyber networks that could at­tack them. Those critical nodes will be identified with an analysis of network interdependencies, but the overall strategy also involves protection, detection, response, and recovery.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, chaos reigned in two distinct regions of the country — the Gulf Coast and the northeast — but a prolonged shutdown of the grid could surpass the destruction of either storm event. “We can handle snowstorms, floods, or other chaotic situations well, but in the event of a cyber attack how do we get the show on the road and marshal our resources to respond in a timely manner?” Cagigal asks. “Such an attack will require an instantaneous response.”

Dunbar refers to a “parade of horribles” that could occur, noting that fresh water, communication services, and sewage treatment are among the services that rely on electric power generation. In addition, there would be disruptions in rail service and other systems whose security and resiliency are vulnerable.

“Imagine millions of people leaving their homes because they can’t live there any more because conditions are so bad,” Dunbar states. “We’re trying to buy down that risk.”


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