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The world’s largest live-fire cyber defense exercise is helping NATO members prepare for cyber warfare. Over the last eight years, 22 NATO and EU countries have been practicing the scenario of a cyber attack in Locked Shields, a war game run by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports.
The clock is ticking as NATO jumps into action to protect one of their own.
COMMANDER MICHAEL WIDMANN:
"There are NATO nations that have deterrence force troops on the island of Berylia. And they are trying to deter aggression from Crimsonia."
Berylia's power grid has been hacked, its water system contaminated.
"Drones, they need to fly!"
And its surveillance drones sent off course, leading Europe to the brink of war.
"It may be attacked this way."
No, you haven't missed the latest news from Europe. This is not real war. It's a war game, the largest live-fire cyber defense exercise in the world involving more than one-thousand experts from 30 nations. It's called Locked Shields. The nerve center of the operation is a hotel ballroom in the picturesque eastern European city of Tallinn, Estonia. It's the home of the event's organizers: The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence.
The most serious threats are coming from nations and nation states affiliated groups.
The center's director, Estonian Merle Maigre says in a world more and more dependent on the Internet, these war games are more important than ever.
The most dangerous targets are in critical information infrastructure, our banking systems, our traffic control systems, our ports, airports. All of this is run by systems that were set up in the 70s or 80s when cyber security measures were not really the first priority and thereby they are vulnerable to cyber attacks as more and more systems are linked up with the Internet.
So hypothetically speaking an attacker could target the air traffic control system of a country and cause a plane crash.
Absolutely, theoretically speaking you don't really need to start a war by targeting the military. A code can render your fighter pilots incapable even before they take off.
The CCDCOE has been running Locked Shields every year since 2010 with a similar scenario: the fictional country of Crimsonia which seeks to dominate the region launches a massive cyber attack against the equally fictional Berylia. Berylia calls on its NATO allies for help. Although the scenario isn't real, the attacks are meant to mimic threats that are, threat's like those NATO faces from potentially hostile countries including Russia.
"That is exactly what happened two years back in Ukraine when the attacks against the power grid happened."
22 so called "blue teams" from NATO and EU nations must defend Berylia. They'll be ranked on how well they protect its electricity grid, emergency communication system, surveillance drones, and water supply from the hackers. American Commander Michael Widmann is one of the coordinators.
These are the actual mockups of the water generation plants that we are using during the exercise. You can see the blue team numbers corresponding to the teams that are trying to defend them. This one here has been compromised. The water's turned green so it's not suitable for human consumption.
Blue is safe. Green means there's too little chlorine in the water supply. Red, too much.
From overall looking at the models here, three teams have lost control of their water purification plants.
And that's leading to bigger problems.
Citizens from Berylia have gotten sick. The deterrence force personnel that are on the island are now having to deal with sick personnel, sick Berylian citizens, they're also dealing with riots and they're also dealing with a proxy group from Crimsonia that are ethnic Crimsonians within Berylia and they are taking advantage of the instants that are occurring to try to destabilize the government essentially.
During the Locked Shields event, defenders usually compete remotely from their home countries. The Estonian team was in secure rooms at CCDCOE headquarters in Tallinn. That's where we found the American team as well. In past years, the US competed on its own and didn't always fare well. In 2017 it came in 12th. This year the US teamed up with three Baltic countries including Estonia which came in second last year.
US ARMY COLONEL BRIAN VILE:
The more we can learn from one another, the better we can share information.
US Army Colonel Brian Vile says it just made sense.
Really this year was a complete change in tactic. We said we are not going to compete individually. Instead what we are going to do is cooperate. Learn from one another and that way if we finish first or with the team that finished first we make sure that we figure out what they are doing that's so good and we can take that back to ourselves and hopefully push that back out to all the other teams we work with and other allies.
The game lasts two days. In the end each team defending Berylia took hits. All the surveillance drones and emergency communications systems were compromised in some way, as were a little over half the electricity and water systems.
There's a lot of learning actually. Yeah, there is a lot.
The US/Estonia team came in 4th.. But Colonel Vile says winning is not the point of Locked Shields. Learning is.
It's all about cooperation. It's all about information sharing. None of us is as smart as all of us.
"Something is very very wrong."
So the great thing that we are getting out of this is the ability to work with the partners, so if something ever does happen in the real world we are that much better prepared for it.
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