Protecting public infrastructure from cyber attacks is not a game, so do not be fooled by public servants playing with a motorised Lego set in Canberra this week.
Cyber security teams from 10 departments will practice attacking and defending a replica city during the inaugural cyber security war games.
One team will be tasked with hacking into the system controlling the motorised city, while the other will try to repel the attacks.
It is one way of preparing for real-life scenarios, like the global ransomware attack that shut down multiple hospitals in the UK earlier this year.
Former commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet Patrick Walsh is judging the event and says more public servants should be taught offensive cyber skills.
“It’s very important for us to learn where our own vulnerabilities are,” he said.
The retired four-star admiral, who is now the vice-president of private security company FireEye, said the war games represented a shift in the Government’s thinking about cyber security.
He said they gave public staff a chance to, “rehearse without fear of consequence or failure”.
“It exposes us to vulnerabilities within our own network, or our own structured way of responding to a breach or a crisis,” he said.
The Federal Government has invested heavily in cyber security initiatives with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declaring it “the new frontier of warfare”.
The war games come just months after the launch of an information warfare unit within the military, and a bolstering of the Australian Signals Directorate.
It also shows the type of capabilities being developed by departments not normally associated with cyber warfare, like the Australian Tax Office, Immigration, and Health.
‘Learning to attack, to defend’
The games have been organised by the head of cyber security at the Department of Human Services, Narelle Devine.
Ms Devine is a former director of cyber war with the Royal Australian Navy, and had brought a military-style approach to the department’s operations.
“We truly believe that to be able to be good at defending, we need to provide a training environment where they can home in their attacking skills,” Ms Devine told the ABC.
“They need to look at the tools and tactics an adversary will use against them, so they understand the art of the possible and what might be used against them.”
Ms Devine said the concepts of “learning to attack to defend” is not new, but had never been tested in inter-departmental war games.
“If you can understand your adversary, we believe you have a much greater chance of better defending yourself,” she said.
“It’s an inhouse capability we have developed and we’re bringing the other departments in so we can share this across Government.”