Fort Carson Leader on Cyberattack Training: Make Sure Troops Fail

An entrance at Fort Carson, Colorado. (Defense Department photo)
An entrance at Fort Carson, Colorado. (Defense Department photo)

A Wednesday training exercise at Fort Carson came with a different twist: Commanders hoped the good guys would lose.

The daylong event involved hundreds of Fort Carson soldiers taking on a mock terrorist attack. The mock attack started with a thumb drive used by an insider to put a virus on the Fort Carson computer system that controls the post's utilities. In the fictional exercise, that virus caused a water main break and an explosion from a leaking gas main.

"This year, I wanted to make sure we're not successful -- we fail," Fort Carson's garrison commander, Col. Ron. Fitch, said as post firefighters battled a mock blaze. "I wanted to find our breaking point."

During the chaos, a mock terrorist took a hostage at a family activity center on the post, prompting an hourslong standoff.

"We will overload all of our resources today," Fitch said.

Colorado Springs-area military bases conduct similar exercises required under a Pentagon anti-terror program. The threat has been especially acute in recent years, with the Islamic State terror group making online threats to American military facilities. Last year, a gunman described as a lone-wolf attacker inspired by jihadist propaganda killed four Marines and a sailor at two sites in Tennessee.

Training against a similar threat lets commanders see what they need to improve to keep Fort Carson safe, Fitch said. "We do it to test our emergency operations system," he said.

It also tested local cooperation as Fort Carson called on local authorities for help in the exercise, although, Fitch said, the cyberattack element was a new twist. The military is wary of hacker attacks on industrial control systems that run utilities, manufacturing plants and even air-conditioning systems because a strike against those computers could use software to cause real damage like fires and floods.

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