Offensive cyber operations exercise kicks off in Estonia

NATO CCDCOE headquarters in Tallinn.
NATO CCDCOE headquarters in Tallinn. Source: ERR

Technical red teaming exercise Crossed Swords, focusing on experimentation with integrating kinetics and offensive cyber operations in the context of a modern battlefield, was executed by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn on Monday.

CCDCOE director Col. Jaak Tarien said that Crossed Swords provides a unique full-spectrum training session in the areas of cyber red teaming, penetration testing, digital forensics, and situational awareness.

"The goal is to build resilient defense by knowing the most current offensive tools and techniques," Tarien said, adding that Crossed Swords tests the capabilities and practices the skills that participants would need when planning and executing a full-spectrum cyber operation, together with elements from other domains.

"To be as practical as possible, the exercise is more comprehensive than ever - including Cyber Command training in addition to technical direction, for example," Tarien said.

The exercise brings together around 100 participants from more than 21 countries, including NATO and non-NATO member states. The exercise is conducted from the exercise and training center CR14.

The head of cyber exercises at the CCDCOE, Carry Kangur, said that the exercise uses realistic technologies and attack methods, and the scenario is inspired by events that have been seen in a range of situations. "Together these constitute realistic threats to national security in the current environment and are exercised within the context of a fictional scenario," Kangur added.

According to Kangur, another important change is that starting from this year, the scenarios of Locked Shields - the biggest live-fire cyber exercise in the world run by the CCDCOE - and Crossed Swords will converge to provide more integrated and immersive training.

The exercise is organized by the CCDCOE in partnership with the Estonian defense forces, CR14, CERT.LV, Clarified Security, Stamus Networks, French Cyber Command, NCIS Cyber Division, NSHQ, TalTech and others.

The foundation CR14 was established early this year and is based on more than ten years of cyber range experience with cyberspace training, exercises, testing, validation and experimentation.

The scenario for this year entails regaining control of an internal security situation by means of policing and offensive cyber operations in Berylia. The exercise is based in the fictional state of Berylia, an island nation in the Atlantic Ocean roughly the size of Spain. Berylia is a parliamentary democracy, an associate member of the EU progressing towards full membership status and has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.

Approximately 300 km to the south of Berylia is the island of Crimsonia. It is roughly the size of the UK and has a similar climate to Berylia. Crimsonia is a weak parliamentary democracy with a very strong political oligarchy and is not well regarded by the international community.

The CCDCOE is a NATO-accredited knowledge hub, research institution, and training and exercise facility. The Tallinn-based international military organization focuses on interdisciplinary applied research, as well as consultations, training and exercises in the field of cyber security.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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