Internet security specialist SANS is building what it calls CyberCity, a model city to help train U.S. Military personnel – Federal hackers, in effect – in defending cities from cyberwarfare attacks.

Though the "city" itself is small, fitting into a 6 by 8-foot (1.8 by 2.4-m) area, it is intended to replicate the systems of a living metropolis, from the control systems of the power grid and other infrastructure, down to the software used in its hospital.

"When you lose control of cyberspace, you lose control of the physical world," said SANS Institute director, Eric Bassel. "The threat of kinetic effect is real."

To simulate the real-world repercussions of urban-focused cyber attacks, CyberCity will include a bank, hospital, water tower, rail system, electricity grid and a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi. The buildings may be miniaturized versions of the real thing, but the software systems and protocols connecting them will be the real thing.

The facility, which is being built near the New Jersey Turnpike, will be incorporated into SANS' NetWars training program. SANS has devised numerous "missions" in which trainees will defend CyberCity from a range of online attacks.

CyberCity's construction will be completed by March 2013, though missions begin in December 2012.