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Cyber security: The new arms race for a new front line

The Pentagon – and a growing cyber industrial complex – gears up for the new front line: cyberspace. Cyber defense is necessary. But it could cost us.

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Cyber security and the Pentagon bid to lead it, is the topic of the cover story of the Sept. 16 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

Illustration by Nancy Stahl

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In the eastern New Jersey suburbs, a train carrying radiological material is barreling toward a small town, and it is up to Pentagon cyber-operators to derail it. The town is the kind of idyllic whistle-stop hamlet where residents socialize at a cafe with complimentary Wi-Fi while surfing FaceSpace, a social networking site.

But danger lurks all around. Terrorists are using the open Wi-Fi connection to hack into the laptop of a patron who works at the hospital down the street. They plan to find the hospital codes stored in his computer to access the mayor's medical records, in which they will change the dosage of a prescription the mayor refills regularly in an effort to poison him.

They have other nefarious future schemes, too: They will cut the power grid with a nasty cybervirus and destroy the local water supply by engineering a program to make it appear as though the reservoir is polluted. When employees dump chemicals into the water to fix the problem, they will inadvertently be doing just what the terrorists want: contaminating the water supply.

This model town – CyberCity – is one of the US military's premier cyberwar simulators. Situated in a surprisingly unassuming suburban enclave, it is built with hobby shop-supplied model trains, miniature cellphone towers, and streetlights – all attached to a miniature power grid.

CyberCity is just a small town compressed onto an 8-by-10-foot plywood table. But its intricate electronic detail highlights the Pentagon's growing effort to expand its offensive cyberwarfare skills in a bid to bolster the nation's cybersecurity, through increasingly sophisticated and aggressive forays that have the potential to revolutionize the way America's military fights wars.

While the military has long fought on land, sea, and air, the emerging cyber-realm is forcing top defense officials to navigate the far less tangible – ever more murky – battlefield of computer attacks.

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