Indiana holds full-scale cybersecurity disaster drill

Lessons learned in the day-long drill at Muscatatuck will be used to help hospitals and utilities all across the state.

MUSCATATUCK, Ind. — Hackers are increasingly hitting governments, utilities, and hospitals — critical infrastructure across the country — during severe storms or natural disasters.

That's why the state of Indiana just held a full-scale disaster drill to test and better prepare Hoosier response.

When a natural disaster strikes, damage from weather isn't the only threat anymore. Experts say right while we're at our most vulnerable, cyberattacks are now targeting hospitals, electric grids, and water systems.

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It's happened a lot during hurricanes and wildfires and leaders in Indiana say it'll likely happen here, too.

"It is a staggering threat when we talk to our counterparts in Louisiana, in Texas, in Florida. When there are hurricanes coming at them, all of a sudden, they see the bad actors trying to get in their systems increase by a thousand-fold," said Chetrice Mosley Romero, the state of Indiana's Cybersecurity Program Director. "Bad actors watch the news and watch the weather channel just as much as the good people do, right? So, they're saying, 'hey - they're going to be affected. They're going to be distracted so we should go after that.'"

Enter "Operation Homeland Defender".

The massive cybersecurity drill, held over the weekend at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, included the Indiana National Guard, local first responders, Indiana Task Force One, Indiana-based Pondurance, IU Health and Citizens Energy.

They conducted a simulated emergency, then injected a cyberattack.

Credit: DVIDS via Indiana National Guard

First, an earthquake hit, then in the chaos of trying to protect people and property, here come the hackers.

"So, we have people who come in and actually attack the water system and shut it down and now you have firefighters and rescue first responders who no longer have water," Mosley-Romero explained. "What can really make a bad day worse? Water's typically the top one."

Crews involved in the drill didn't know this was a cyberattack at first.

The exercise teaches that, so first responders know in the future that hackers are a possibility during disasters.

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The groups also experience, in real time, how to plan and respond.

"So we have a red team that attacks the system and then we have a blue team who responds to that attack, closes up the system and then also educates the water utility on what they could've done to prevent the attack altogether," Mosley-Romero said.

Protecting health care and critical infrastructure, just when people need it the most, is the goal of this exercise.

Lessons learned in the day-long drill at Muscatatuck will be used to help hospitals and utilities all across the state.

"It isn't just one entity that solves it all, it is a 'all hands are on deck' situation because all of us are touching things that are plugged in, so all of us are really part of the cyber problem," Mosley-Romero said. "But we're also part of the cyber solution."

The state of Indiana has developed cybersecurity toolkits, for not only cities and businesses but also regular citizens.

You can even test yourself, to see how well you're protected. Find the information, tips and quizzes here.