On target against cyberattacks

Published:  30 November, 2017

Cyber attacks are becoming an ever-prevalent threat to critical national infrastructure (CNI) operators, major organisations, and public safety agencies. So what measures can high-hazard facilities and public safety agencies put in place to protect themselves? The answer lies in virtual and augmented reality technology writes Rob Monroe.

‘A category one cyber attack, the most serious tier possible, will happen sometime in the next few years,’ said Ian Levy, technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), at a recent conference hosted by antivirus firm Symantec.

In the year since the UK's cybersecurity intelligence agency was founded, it has covered 470 category three incidents and 30 category two, including the Wannacry ransom worm, which infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries and severely impacted the UK’s National Health System. ‘The only way to prevent such a breach,’ Levy said. ‘Is to change the way businesses and governments think about cybersecurity.’

As part of the preparation of such an eventuality, a major and sustained attack on a region’s power grid was simulated during a recent exercise, hosted by Cleveland Fire Brigade. This was one of six trials held during September and October 2017 as part of TARGET (Training Augmented Reality Generalised Environment Toolkit), a project that has received funding from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Innovative serious gaming techniques and a range of training scenarios are being developed as part of TARGET. Using a combination of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AVR), Virtual Reality (VR) and command post exercises, TARGET is delivering a pan-European serious gaming platform that features new tools, techniques and content for training, but also incorporates methodology to assess the skills and competencies of Security Critical Agents (SCA), including first responders, counterterrorism units, border guards and critical infrastructure operators.

Mixed reality experiences immerse trainees at operational, tactical and strategic command levels, who use a combination of both real and training weaponry, radio equipment, command and control software, decision support tools, real command centres and vehicles. A web-based Geometry Store has been created, which already contains over 250 AVR human models of first responders and civilians, as well as vehicles and equipment. A new Photogrammetry Survey Drone has also been deployed to generate high-resolution 3D modelling of landscapes and buildings.

The beta versions of the TARGET solutions were put through their paces during September and October 2017 in a series of trials, hosted by each of the end user agencies in the project. By evaluating them in real-life training environments with operational SCAs, the six trials provided extremely useful feedback to the technical teams for the continued development of the software.

TC1 - CBRN incident in a clandestine lab

This was an AVR exercise with field-based components, hosted by the International Security and Emergency Management Institute in Slovakia. Police officers in gas-tight Hazmat suits, wearing Hololens headsets projecting 3D imagery, were required to collect forensic evidence in a mock clandestine laboratory containing simulated radioactive and chemical materials.

TC2 - Protecting CNI during mass demo

A senior-level command post exercise, hosted by Fachhochschule der Polizei des Landes Brandenburg. CCTV and heli-teli views of the incident scene, radio communications, social media, as well as information from their own command and control systems were fed to the command team. Asset location and status information was presented on the TARGET user interface from Fraunhofer IVI.

TC3 - Cyber attack on energy grid

A sustained attack on a region’s power grid was simulated during this exercise, which was delivered to a senior multi-agency command team in Cleveland Fire Brigade’s strategic command centre. The scenario focused on the critical infrastructure components and key locations, including the effects on power stations, hospitals, railway stations, residential areas, resultant major incidents and the prioritisation of responses.

TC4 - Tactical firearms in confined spaces

Firearms teams, wearing Hololens headsets but using real weaponry equipped with blank rounds, had to break into a building and affect rescues or interventions against possibly hostile and armed individuals, which appeared as digital holograms. The Institut de Seguretat Publica de Catalunya with Guardia Civil hosted TC4 in Barcelona.

TC5 - Police respond to violent individuals

Police officers at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Police near Lyon were asked to resolve a complex and threatening situation after a car accident, involving a potentially violent individual and a bystander. This was a tactical level exercise, using AVR technology but with small arms instrumented with trackers to record when a weapon was deployed.

TC6 - Major RTC with multiple fatalities

Deutsche Hochschule der Polizei in Münster hosted this command post exercise in a simulated command unit. Operational commanders had to contend with a motorway road traffic collision, involving over 80 vehicles. A monitor inside the command unit showed commanders the scene from its location and participants were also able to use a VR headset to add another perspective to the exercise.

TARGET will deliver an extremely realistic and flexible AVR simulation solution incorporating a range of dynamic and variable scenarios. A multi-language, online exercise creation and management tool will be available, allowing agencies throughout Europe to use the training content. Special support will also be provided to translators to assist the creation of local language versions of the training content modules. The vision of the project is to make the TARGET Open Platform the reference for SCA training using serious gaming across Europe.

Further information about TARGET is available from the project website and people are also invited to join the TARGET Community at http://www.target-h2020.eu. 

  • Operation Florian

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