Look How Cute this Military Cyber Warfare Training Ground Is

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If the web is down, cyber warriors can hack into the billboard and use it to communicate to citizens during an attack.

Somewhere hidden in the sleepy suburbs of New Jersey, there is a very small town. This all-American village boasts good public transit, its own reservoir, a coffee shop, a church, a bank... you name it. Their international airport rarely has delays. 

Where is this idyllic hideaway? That's a military secret. 

CyberCity, as it's called, serves as a training ground for a new class of specialized "cyber warriors," capable of defending against cyber attack. Every day, soldiers plot to take over the town, by hacking into its schools, its water systems, its power grid, and its Internet, as colleagues and instructors watch on screens in the other room. It's run by the SANS Institute's Ed Skoudis, whom the military hired to design a new generation of training equipment –  and, as Skoudis said, your average digital simulator wasn't going to cut it:

"If you tell them, 'Hey, one of your folks was able to hack into a power grid and turn the lights back on,' certain people in the military leadership would look at that and say, 'You just showed me that my people can play a video game.' Whereas we can say it was a real power grid. Admittedly controlling a city whose surface area was 48 square feet – but still."

While we can't disclose CyberCity's precise location, we can say this: Skoudis' souped-up model train set sits very near the center of innovation in military training, national security and technology-fueled warfare.

We sent radio producer Eric Molinsky (of the podcast "Imaginary Worlds") to check it out in person. We were oohing and aahing right along with him (listen above). Because what Skoudis told him was simultaneously terrifying...

"Those people in CyberCity are not physical little people. What they are is, they’re data.... Most of the residents have birth records in the hospital, some of them are getting various medical treatments, they have prescription medications – all that stuff is in the hospital. We have social networking inside of Cyber City. We have something very like Facebook, we have something very much like Twitter. We have a newspaper in Cyber City. We call it the Cyber City Sentinel. So for example we’ll have a reporter who writes Cyber City Sentinel articles. That reporter also has a bank account. That reporter also has birth records. She has a family. So there’s really – I guess the way to describe it is there’s a fabric to the citizenry of Cyber City."

...and kind of charming. Listen to the full story on this week's episode of New Tech City, in the audio player above, on iTunesStitcherTuneInI Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed.

Cyber City by day. Everything has a specific purpose for cyber war scenarios – like the train that can get hijacked.
Skoudis is proud of the details within Cyber City like this house with a flowerpot. While he doesn’t want human figures in the model, those details reminds him that people’s livelihoods are at stake.
It feels like a hazy bright morning by the power plant in Cyber City.
There are some notes of whimsy on the model, like the DeLorean from Back to the Future.
During cyber war games, the school is often off-limits in the rules of engagement, which provides a challenge for the cyber warriors.
The power plant may be a plastic simulation, but the computer system that runs it underneath the model has to be realistically high tech.
Technicians monitor Cyber City through web cams. They can also use those laptops to make mayhem happen.
Ed Skoudis describes his Steampunk office as “a mad scientists’ lab from the 1880s.” There’s a model train that runs along the ceiling. He also has Edison bulbs, an Enigma machine, vintage radios from


This week, Manoush is up for a challenge: Come up with a topic you know you should care about, but it just sounds so boring. We'll figure out a way to make it interesting, and we'll convince you to care once and for all (well, first we'll figure out if you need to care. That first.)  Email us (newtechcity@wnyc.org), tweet at us (@NewTechCity), or leave a comment on our New Tech City Facebook page. 

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