AFNIC simulator enables realistic training for Cyber Flag 13-1

  • Published
  • By Katherine Kebisek
  • Air Force Network Integration Center
Air Force Network Integration Center engineers recently provided support to U.S. Cyber Command's annual cyber exercise, Cyber Flag 13-1, which took place Oct. 29 - Nov. 8 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Cyber Flag, a joint cyberspace training exercise, is designed to provide realistic training opportunities for a number of Department of Defense commands to deter, and if necessary, defeat a cyber attack against the department.

To provide this realistic training, USCYBERCOM called upon the expertise and capability of AFNIC's Cyber Force Integration Team. For over 10 years, this team has managed and maintained the Air Force's Simulator Training Exercise (SIMTEX) range, which simulates the service's three-tiered network operations and security structure, giving cyber operators valuable hands-on experience within a safe, secure environment that is separate from the operational network.

The Cyber Flag exercise specifically employed a unique capability of SIMTEX called the Range Global Internet (RGI), which offers a realistic World Wide Web framework that allows for training in an environment similar to the live internet. With dynamic services such as websites, core Domain Name Server (DNS) infrastructure, foreign country emulation, and artificial, yet realistic network traffic, users experience the same environment as if they were on the real Internet. The RGI even simulates popular social media sites, allowing for cross-collaboration among exercise participants.

"This [Range Global Internet] was the gray, or neutral, zone ... everybody traversed through us," said Capt. Andrew Dunn, chief engineer for Cyber Force Integration. Just as with air ranges that pilots use to practice maneuvers, he said the cyber range provides the same opportunity for cyber operators and defenders to practice maneuvers through cyberspace.

SIMTEX is frequently used in Air Force and joint cyber exercises, as well as for training of cyber operators through units such as the 333rd Training Squadron at Keesler AFB, Miss., and the 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Dunn noted that participating in exercises like Cyber Flag helps his team to ensure SIMTEX simulates the network closely to provide the best possible training opportunities for new Airmen entering the cyberspace career field.

"When we support these exercises we get to interface with the people doing actual missions ... when they give us new requirements or say, 'We want to see this happen on the range,' we can adjust as needed or simply change the tactics," Said Dunn. "We then filter the [range or tactic] updates to the schoolhouse ... that way things are kept fresh and relevant, which is important because cyber is always changing."

Participants in this year's Cyber Flag included personnel from the DoD, all four services, government agencies, and academia from national labs--all key players in securing cyber networks and deterring cyber-attacks.

With cyber security a priority for the U.S. government and coalition partners, USCYBERCOM conducts events such as Cyber Flag to exercise and institutionalize its cyber forces and capabilities to ensure they meet their mission of defending and operating the DoD networks, and ensuring U.S. and allied freedom in cyberspace.