Navy using virtual test bed to secure shipboard systems

The Navy is developing a new cybersecurity testing system that will virtually link all the connected systems that would exist on an actual ship for testing. The project — called USS Secure — is an effort on the part of 28 shipbuilders to produce a cybersafe warship.

What [USS Secure] is, it’s not an actual ship,” Adm. Lorin Selby, commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, told  the Federal Drive during the enterprise IT theme month program. “It’s a virtual connection of multiple systems that we can monitor, manipulate and test what’s going on on a real ship. It allows us to put together different systems we would have on ships in a virtual environment … to see how resilient they are against cyber-attacks.”

All the different systems on naval ships are currently developed and tested at different facilities. Certain systems like radar may be developed in Dahlgren, while mechanical or electrical systems might be built in Philadelphia. But when these systems are actually connected, that’s when the cyber vulnerabilities become apparent.

“Maybe you’d actually wait [to test for cyber vulnerabilities] until the ship was built and put together, so there’s obviously risks there,” Selby said.


USS Secure is an attempt to address these vulnerabilities before the ship is actually built. Previously, attempting to test the different systems in concert would have involved gathering the requisite hardware together in a single location, linking it together and running it in a building. This was done occasionally, but it was costly in both time and money.

“When it comes to testing systems, we find it’s more efficient, more economical to do some of this testing virtually,” Selby said.

USS Secure links networks at various facilities together so that these systems can be tested in a virtual environment. Selby said that this kind of testing has been done for decades, but never on this scale.

Selby said that we are currently in the middle of a technological transitionary period, and that we are still learning how to adapt to modern innovations. He said that in the history of technology, there is usually a time frame that lasts about a generation where society must overcome a learning curve before making efficient use of new technologies.

“I’m convinced that 30 years from now, we’re going to look back and say ‘We were stupid. Wow, if we only had thought of this back then,’” Selby said.  “But the reality is, it takes time, it takes making mistakes, it takes learning from those mistakes so you can incorporate those lessons into the new thing you’re making … to really gain the full advantage of it.”

USS Secure is set for its first exercise later this month. This initial test run will ensure that the systems are connected properly and can communicate with each other.

“Fundamentally, we all know this is the right concept; we just have to prove it,” Selby said.