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DARPA Plans Cyberwar 'Matrix'

The agency's National Cyber Range for cyberwar simulation would be similar to Star Trek's holodeck or a Snow Crash-style Metaverse.

Police officers practice their firearm skills on a shooting range, so why shouldn't government computer security experts have the same kind of training ground?

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, on Monday issued a call for research proposals to develop the National Cyber Range, or NCR, a virtual network environment for cyberwar simulation.

In other words, Darpa wants to build something along the lines of The Matrix, Star Trek's holodeck, or a Snow Crash-style Metaverse to test cyberwar strategies and drill cyberwarriors. That's not to say Darpa is aiming for a visually immersive world to entertain people; rather, it wants a place to pit hackers against simulated machines.

Darpa's interest in such matters reflects a growing U.S. government and military commitment to develop more sophisticated cyberwar capabilities. A major reason for this is that other countries, such as China, are pursuing similar goals.

"The NCR will become a National resource for testing unclassified and classified cyber programs," Darpa's announcement explains. "Government and Government-sponsored Test Organizations (TO) authorized to conduct cyber testing will coordinate with the NCR performer for range time and resources. ...The NCR will support multiple, simultaneous, segmented tests and testbeds. At the completion of the test the NCR will sanitize and de-allocate the testbed resources, thus absorbing them back into the range."

The NCR aims to provide the ability to replicate military, government, and commercial IT systems and infrastructure; to monitor and manage events; and to analyze, collect, and present test data.

The NCR should be able to "realistically replicate human behavior and frailties," to provide "realistic, sophisticated, nation-state quality offensive and defensive opposition forces," and to "accelerate and decelerate relative test time."

With any luck, human frailties won't manifest themselves in the form of a ballooning budget as the NCR takes shape.

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