NATO Cyber Game Tests Defenses Amid War in Ukraine

NATO’s large, multi-day cyber defense exercise will bring together technical experts from alliance countries and Ukraine almost two months after the Russian invasion.

The annual cyber wargames, known as the Locked Shields exercise, kick off on Tuesday in Tallinn, Estonia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Cooperative Cyber ​​Defense Center of Excellence will host the event, which will include fictional cyber-attack drills designed to fend off test teams under time pressure.

This year’s competition is significant for participating countries as their cyber defense units have been on high alert since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, said Anett Numa, an international policy adviser in the cyber policy unit of the Estonian Defense Ministry.

“Like-minded countries must work together to protect themselves,” said Ms Numa. Ukrainian and Estonian experts will work in the same team during the exercise, she added.

The Finnish government’s websites were attacked on April 8 while the government was discussing joining NATO. Ukrainian government websites were hacked in January as Russian troops gathered around the country’s borders. “Any political decision can trigger an attack,” said Ms Numa, referring to the current discussions in Finland about joining NATO. Estonia also suffered a large-scale cyber attack in 2007.

NATO officials discussed several ways the alliance can help Ukraine fend off cyber-attacks, and in January gave the country access to its malware intelligence-sharing platform. In February, Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber ​​and Emerging Technology, traveled to Brussels and Warsaw to discuss Russian cyber threats with officials from NATO, the European Union, Poland and the Baltic countries.

The NATO alliance team is made up of about 30 cyber defenders from various NATO bodies and member states with specializations such as communications, digital forensics, legal expertise and recovering systems damaged by an attack, said Ian West, head of NATO Cyber ​​Security. Security Center, which defends NATO. networks and is part of the communication and information office of the organization.

The exercise is helpful for cyber defenders from different countries to communicate with each other about attacks on the same technology products that different governments use, Mr West said. “We all use commercial turnkey systems. We all use the same technology and, as we know, a lot of these technologies come out on the market and unfortunately they are vulnerable,” he said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted NATO members to upgrade their weapons, deploy more troops to the east and possibly even welcome more countries to the alliance. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday describes the three ways the war has strengthened the NATO alliance. Photo Composite: Elizabeth Smelov

The NATO center that hosts Locked Shields is not disclosing details about the simulated cyberattacks. This year’s exercise will focus on the “interdependencies between national IT systems,” it said in a statement. The wargames do not use elements of the recent cyberattacks in Ukraine because they were too recent, but the exercise generally includes scenarios that have occurred in real-life cyberattacks, Ms Numa said.

In 2021, more than 2,000 participants took part in a simulation that tested how a country could respond to a large-scale cyber attack on its financial system and keep critical functions, such as payments, running.

The advantage of the exercises is that it forms a basis for participants to measure their cyber defense skills against each other, says Stefan Soesanto, senior cyber defense researcher at ETH Zurich.

The games also help experts get to know their counterparts in allied countries, he said. “They are a huge alliance with partners behind them. If something happens, you can be confident that they will help you,” he said.

write to Catherine Stupp at Catherine.Stupp@wsj.com

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