Estonia Exercise Shows NATO’s Growing Worry About Cyber Attacks

Locked Shields is the largest international cyber exercise in the worldWith more than 300 participants and teams from 17 nations, organizers said it [Estonia’s Locked Shields cyber exercise] was the largest international cyber maneuver yet mounted, simulating an attack on a fictional nation called “Berylia” by a 50-strong team of computer experts. . . .

“It was very challenging,” team leader [Ragnar] Rattas, who runs the critical infrastructure protection team at the Estonian Information System Authority, told Reuters. “They were very sophisticated attacks. There were times when you just wanted to close the computer and walk away.”

Estonia is no stranger to electronic warfare. During a diplomatic dispute with Russia in 2007 over the movement of a Soviet-era war memorial, many of its essential computer systems failed after a major attack widely blamed on Russia.

Moscow denied the charge although it said it could not control the actions of independent patriotic hackers.

Analysts said Russian hackers – state-linked or otherwise – were probably also responsible for a similar but much smaller attack that temporarily crashed the NATO website in March. . . .

Estonia’s team was in Tallinn but others took part remotely from Finland, Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, Turkey, Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Austria, Lithuania in addition to NATO’s own dedicated cyber response unit.

The Estonian competition was won by Poland.

Major cyber powers such as the United States and Britain conduct their own exercises, current and former officials say, including use of their own highly classified offensive cyber weaponry to attack enemy systems.

Defensive simulations such as the NATO drill, however, are particularly useful for smaller states.

Image: Locked Shields is the largest international cyber exercise in the world (graphic: CCDCOE)