Exercise Crossed Swords 2019 integrates cyber into full scale of operations

The annual technical cyber exercise Crossed Swords 2019 organized jointly by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) and CERT.LV in Tallinn, Estonia, brought together technical experts, members of national Cyber Commands and special forces operators. The exercise focused on advancing cyber Red Team members skills in preventing, detecting and responding to full-scale cyber operations. As more and more nations are setting up their Cyber Commands, the exercise included the command component, provided by the Cyber Command of the Estonian Defence Forces.

Crossed Swords is an intense hands-on full scale cyber operations exercise where security experts and penetrations testers can learn to cope better with diverse attack vectors and to test the offensive cyber capabilities. In this year’s exercise, several kinetic and cyber operations were carried out simultaneously, including challenges to industrial control systems, physical security systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and maritime surveillance systems. A novel element was the real-life unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) that had to be tackled by cyber means.

“Crossed Swords is one of the most challenging cyber exercises not because of its size, but because of the scale of different complex and interdisciplinary activities,”said Lauri Luht, the Project Manager of Technical Exercises at the NATO CCDCOE.  “This exercise is about collaboration, enabling participants to harness cross-domain synergy and integrate cyber with military tactics. The cross-domain approach and effective communication are the key factors to combat the threats, also by using the offensive tactics, if necessary.”

“Every year, the organizers up the ante to provide valid learning opportunity for mission critical cyber operations. It’s a joint tactical exercise including technical experts, data collection experts and special forces operators brought under the same command, ” explained Bernhards Blumbergs, the exercise founder and technical director, a cyber security expert from CERT.LV. “In this exercise teamwork is of crucial importance, be it for delegation, dividing and assigning roles or leadership, cooperation and information sharing, adequate time management and prioritization, and last but not the least, ability to convey the big picture to the commanders,” he added.

Crossed Swords technical cyber exercise focuses on training penetration testers, digital forensic professionals, situational awareness experts, among them many, who will take up a role in the Red Team at the forthcoming Locked Shields 2019 exercise. Crossed Swords 2019 hosted more than 100 participants from 21 countries.

The exercise was organized jointly by the NATO CCDCOE, a NATO-accredited cyber defence hub in Tallinn, and CERT.LV, the Information Technology Security Incident Response Institution of the Republic of Latvia, in partnership with Estonian Defence Forces, the Cyber Command of the EDF, Estonian Cyber Defence League, Latvian Cyber Defence Unit, TalTech, Milrem Robotics, Threod, Cybernetica AS, GREYCORTEX, HTCI, NSHQ, Cymmetria and CybeXer Technologies.