Conclusion of Crossed Swords: the most exciting offensive cyber operations exercise

With the close of this year’s unclassified, offensive cyber operations exercise, Crossed Swords at CR14, the training audience gained significant training, experience, and insights into the conduct of these activities in an international, military context. The cyber headquarters (CHQ) team’s coordination of offensive cyber activities into a wider operational context provided the training audience with a realistic simulation of how full-spectrum cyber operations would support and be supported by traditional military operations. The number of injects demonstrated the importance and role for the CHQ in Crossed Swords, which is anticipated to grow in its task in the future.

For the technical training audience, they were challenged with hundreds of attacks over the course of 72 hours. They found that the training was fast paced and it was useful for managing aspects of operational security especially in relation to speed. The special systems utilised were also a highlight for the technical teams as they were unique training opportunities that they have rarely seen or experienced elsewhere.

At the end of every day, the yellow-team (threat hunters and identifiers of incursions) provided feedback to the training audience of points for improvement and things that were done well. The yellow team noticed that over the course of the exercise that the participants listened to the feedback and incorporated their suggestions into the following days’ activities. The yellow-teamers also had a positive experience in that they were pushed beyond their comfort zone.

The Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) team had a challenging exercise with more activities in more systems than ever before. What the DFIR training audience found most valuable and unique was the inclusion of actual hardware to work with. The identification of the proper tools and approaches to crack the various systems proved to be an interesting challenge this year.

After three days of furious activities from all of the teams, the participants left satisfied with their experience but ready for more. Start preparing now for next year’s Crossed Swords exercise as it is anticipated to have a new and improved format that will undoubtedly be more challenging and demanding!