MADISON, Wis. — Members of Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) and the Wisconsin National Guard were on hand at Madison Gas and Electric’s April 13 ceremony introducing a new cyber range facility that aims to train those tasked with protecting Wisconsin’s vital infrastructure against attacks, and restoring services quickly in the event of an attack that disrupts the power supply.
The cyber range provides a venue at which MGE, other utilities and state cyber security officials — including Wisconsin Emergency Management and the Wisconsin National Guard — can test their capabilities in a controlled environment.
The cyber range opens in time for next month’s Dark Sky exercise, a large-scale, multi-agency disaster response exercise based on a scenario of a large-scale power outage caused by notional physical and cyber threats lasting up to three weeks in some areas. Dark Sky will test how the state would respond in such an emergency, and the new cyber range will serve as one of the exercise venues.
“I believe this is an important milestone for MGE and the larger community of state and private utility interests coming together to discuss the importance of the ability to simulate cyber security scenarios in a safe and repeatable way,” Jeff Keebler, Madison Gas and Electric president and chief executive officer, said to begin the ceremony.
MGE’s cyber range facility, located in downtown Madison, pits a team of “hostile” cyber agents against the “good guys” — utility workers and others seeking to keep the power flowing to key infrastructure assets such as water supply, sanitation, wastewater treatment and telecommunications — in scenarios designed to identify weaknesses and develop appropriate responses.
Dave Blankenheim, MGE’s director of electric distribution strategic planning, described the cyber range as a technological sandbox that simulates the physical assets at risk of a cyber attack, and can play back scenarios so participants can see how decisions and actions — or lack thereof — impact the scenario environment.
“That’s really important,” Blankenheim explained, “because we can take the scale, the complexity to where it needs to be without spending a fortune to build a true complex environment that is like what you have in production.”
According to Greg Engle, Wisconsin Emergency Management deputy administrator as well as WEM’s director of planning and preparedness, the Dark Sky scenario simulates physical and cyber security threats to the state’s power grid where more than half the state will notionally be affected.
Wisconsin Emergency Management and the Wisconsin National Guard, which serves not only as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, but also as the state’s first military responder in times of emergency, will work hand-in-hand with partners across the state to exercise how the state would respond in such a scenario.
Engle said Dark Sky would cover as many as 10 different venues in Madison and the Fox Valley area. The state Emergency Operations Center will participate in the exercise, along with four county emergency operation centers. A business emergency operations center will be established in Madison. And a statewide emergency fuel plan will get a test run during Dark Sky as well.
“Obviously, one of the big concerns throughout a state power outage is how do you provide fuel for emergency vehicles,” Engle said, “and how do you get fuel to all the backup generators at critical infrastructure — water, wastewater, communications systems, the utilities itself. Without that fuel you could potentially have a number of cascading impacts. We have been working with the fuel industry on an alternate plan to help reprioritize and develop the logistics necessary to get fuel to all of the critical infrastructure throughout the state.
“We have a maxim in emergency management that you don’t have a plan until you exercise the plan.”
Max Babler, MGE’s director of security, infrastructure and operations, said one of the goals of Dark Sky was to put participants under situational stress in much the same way a real-world emergency would do.
“It’s not just people in a room working on computers trying to recover a system, and it’s not just another group of people working on the logistics of how to recover from a gas emergency,” Babler said.” It’s all of that and the extended team members that are going to be necessary on that bad day to get the logistics for the gas to flow, to make sure there’s safety at all the different facilities, to make sure that people are fed, to make sure that you can actually start to bring back our way of life.”
The Wisconsin National Guard’s Detachment 1, 176th Cyber Protection Team will support Dark Sky at the cyber range. According to Lt. Col. Jeremy Holmes — who oversees a different Wisconsin National Guard unit that conducts cybersecurity for defense information networks — the detachment’s Adversary Emulation Team will play the role of the “bad guys” launching cyber attacks against the state’s power grid, while the detachment’s Mission Assurance Team will help with cyber defense, and other detachment members will serve as exercise evaluators.
“An exercise like this, and the simulation that goes with it, helps [participants] understand that those things are going to challenge them,” Babler said. “And hopefully we create this muscle memory of resilience. Through these practices, through these simulations, we’re able to better recover on that bad day.”
Dan Flood, a regional vice president for Dell Technologies — which played a significant role in developing the cyber range — spoke of the enduring value the cyber range would provide in terms of training and readiness.
“I’m going to sleep better tonight knowing that this project is going on, because if something happens and a rogue nation-state attacks our country, I know we’re prepared because of the people in this room,” Flood said.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general and the governor’s senior cyber security official, said the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs is proud to be a partner in this endeavor.
“This is so important for our country to try to imagine the worst day in America and do something about it,” Dunbar said. “All around the country, people are talking about it, and here in Madison, Wisconsin, we’re doing something about it.”