The international cyber defense exercise called Locked Shields of the NATO Center for Excellence in Cyber Defense (NATO CCDCOE) was held from 13 to 16 April 2021, in which 22 nations, including Hungary, were represented.
Locked Shields is the world’s largest real-time cyber defense exercise, where participating nations need to have the virtual infrastructure at their disposal and protect themselves from hostile attacks from cyberspace, thus preparing nations to respond to cyber incidents. Compared to previous years, this year new cybernetic-physical systems have been developed in the infrastructure, and in addition to the technical elements, new dilemmas were added to the strategic track of the Exercise. With this complex structure, participating nations were able to exercise the entire chain of command in resolving the technical and strategic issues arising from large-scale cyber incidents.
The main aim of the exercise was to enable professionals from the participating Member States to work together in a simulated environment and to respond to challenges from cyberspace. Taking into account the pandemic situation, the Hungarian team performed its tasks from three different locations, so in addition to coordinating the communication between the different nations, was also a special challenge to ensure continuous contact between the Hungarian specialists.
The network required for the exercise was provided by the organizers in a virtual environment with remote access. This year is unique from other iterations of Locked Shields in that for the first time the organisers will also be participating remotely rather than gathering in Tallinn as they have done in previous years.The event was preceded by a six-month planning and preparation period, during which the virtual environment was developed and tested with the involvement of Hungarian university students one month before the live exercise.
According to the scenario of exercise, it was the responsibility of each nation to maintain the protection of the strategically important industrial facilities and infrastructure of an imaginary NATO member state and to ensure the continuous operation of services (water and electricity network, communications, online administration) while the systems were subject to continuous cyber attacks. The tasks had to be solved in an imaginary NATO operational environment, based on real incidents.
The attacks in the virtual space first reached the lines of the technical staff, but the consequences had to be dealt with by the participants at the strategic level too. The legal and defense policy handling of the incidents was also authoritative, and responding to the growing media interest was also a priority for each team.
The tasks that arose during the exercise were also aimed at demonstrating the impact of cyberspace on real life. The Locked Shields 2021 exercise, in addition to coordinating the management of technical challenges, highlighted the importance of coordinating strategic decision-making not only at the national level but also in multinational cooperation. The experience gained in exercise are integrated into the day-to-day tasks by the specialties.
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