'Crossed Swords' tested skills of cyber defenders

NATO's Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) based in Tallinn has released an interesting account of a recent exercise it staged in Latvia in cooperation with Latvia's national cyber-defense agency CERT.LV.

Dubbed ''Crossed Swords 2018" and taking place January 30 to February 2, it was described as a "technical red teaming cyber defense exercise" which covered "several geographical areas, involving critical information infrastructure providers and cyber-kinetic engagement of military units."

“The exercise aims to practice skills required to fill the role of the Red Team at cyber defence exercises and to offer the most cutting-edge and challenging training experience for national cyber defenders. It is evident that in order to defend ourselves better in cyber space, we need to know how attacks are carried out,” said Aare Reintam, Project Manager of Technical Exercises at the NATO CCD COE.

Exercise Crossed Swords offers a complete inside-out understanding of the most current cyber threats," added Reintam.

Crossed Swords 2018 focused on enhancing cooperation and information sharing between civilian and military spheres, joining together Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) providers and military units. For the first time several kinetic and cyber operations were carried out simultaneously in different geographical locations. In 2018 the exercise involved more than 80 participants from 15 countries.

”This year we used the mobile network technologies for identifying a target, drone surveillance and 5G sensors for acquiring its location and gathering further information enabling to accomplish the goal. Operations in cyber space, no matter how vast it is, can reach only as far as it has some form of connectivity,” said Bernhards Blumbergs, cyber security expert from CERT.LV.

“In cases where a desired target is not directly reachable over cyber space, the kinetic engagement by military units equipped with the latest technological and tactical advancements is required to execute such an operation,” said Blumbergs.

Crossed Swords is the sister exercise of Locked Shields, the world’s largest and most complex international technical cyber defense exercise. It focuses on training penetration testers, digital forensics professionals, situational awareness experts that fill the role of the attacking team at Locked Shields.

The advance description of Crossed Swords described it as

An on-site exercise oriented at penetration testers working as a single united team, accomplishing the laid out mission goals and technical challenges in a virtualized cyber environment. The main focus is tactical stealthy execution skill development in a responsive cyber defense scenario.

"Technical cyber defence exercises typically are aimed at exercising information system defence personnel capabilities (i.e. Blue Teams) at the same time having a real time opposing force played by security specialists and penetration testers (i.e. Red Team). To advance the readiness and sophistication of the Red Team members and their ability to deliver increased performance, a dedicated training is required," the CCDCOE said.

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