POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 25, 2013
The state of Hawaii on Wednesday launched a center to train people to defend computer systems from attack.
The so-called "cyber range" is a collection of servers and routers in a room on the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus. The equipment will allow people to practice hacking computer systems as a way to learn about network vulnerabilities.
The machinery will get a workout in early August when the university hosts a training exercise for up to 100 people. Participants will split into a red team of hackers and a blue team responsible for defending a hypothetical business's computer systems.
"You can really do a good job of fortifying your system but you don't really know how fragile a system is until you try and break it. That's what a cyber range is about," said Brian Chee, director of the university's Advanced Network Computing Laboratory.
Most ranges in the country have been built for the military and they are still rare in the civilian world, he said.
"This is taking the cyberwarfare game and stepping it up a lot," said Chee, whose lab tests equipment for Info World, a network equipment trade magazine.
Pretending to be a "black hat" or malicious hacker is good practice, he said.
Chee recounted how he once scanned open wireless network connections while sitting in a downtown Honolulu park between the state's major banks. He found one, and was able to use it to see financial transactions being carried out. He called his friend in the bank's information technology department, who discovered a bank employee had installed an unauthorized Wi-Fi access spot under his desk.
"They created this big giant puka behind the firewall," he said, using the Hawaiian word for "hole." "I was actually seeing financial transactions go by. If a black hat decided to take advantage of that, they could wreak havoc."
The equipment for the cyber range would cost just under $2 million if bought new, Chee estimated. But the state spent only about $1,000 on it because most of it was donated from places like Chee's lab and the Maui High Performance Computing Center, said Franklin Jackson, cyber security executive for the state Department of Defense.
University officials, private-sector workers and the Hawaii National Guard worked together to get the center going.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said at a dedication ceremony for the range his administration will follow up during the next legislative session with proposals to invest more in information technology.
Underscoring the importance of the cyber range to the state, Abercrombie was joined by the state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Darryl Wong, Honolulu Police Department Chief Louis Kealoha and the top federal prosecutor for Hawaii, Florence Nakakuni, at the ceremony.