In A Historic First, Ukraine To Join NATO’s Largest Cyber Security Exercise, Locked Shields 2024

For the very first time, Ukraine will debut in NATO’s flagship cybersecurity exercise, Locked Shields 2024, announced by the National Cyber Security Coordination Center (the first working body of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council). 

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Locked Shields, organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), is the world’s largest cybersecurity exercise. It will take place between April 22 and April 26.

The exercise serves as a crucible for honing cyber defense capabilities, fostering an environment where participants leverage their collective expertise to develop robust defense strategies. 

Since its inception in 2010, the exercise has evolved into the world’s largest and most realistic cyber defense drill, setting the standard for comprehensive cyber readiness.

This annual event convenes experts from diverse backgrounds to tackle cyber threats through realistic scenarios, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation in defending against cyber-attacks.

The National Cyber Security Coordination Center of Ukraine stressed the growing importance of Locked Shields in strengthening international collaboration in cyber defense, which is evident from the increasing number of participating countries each year. 

In its previous iteration in 2023, Locked Shields saw the participation of 33 countries forming 24 different teams. This year’s exercise, hosted in Estonia, is expected to draw around 4,000 experts from over 40 nations tasked with safeguarding a fictional nation’s critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

According to the National Cyber Security Coordination Center, Kyiv is forming a joint team with the Czech Republic for the exercises. The goal is to cultivate skills, share experiences, and foster cooperation in countering modern cyber threats. 

In March 2022, Ukraine became a member of the NATO Cyber Center in response to Russia’s large-scale invasion. 

Serhiy Demedyuk, Deputy Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, emphasized the significance of collaboration, stating, “Working together on skills, sharing experiences, and cooperating are key elements in effectively countering modern cyber threats.”

Lieutenant Colonel Urmet Tomp, Head of Exercises at NATO CCDCOE, highlighted the exercise’s role in promoting international collaboration and building a resilient global cyber defense. 

He expressed gratitude for the dedication and expertise of allies and partners, which are essential in fortifying cyber defense capabilities worldwide.

Locked Shields 2024

Locked Shields, the pinnacle of live-fire cyber defense exercises, is poised to unfold once again, offering participants a high-stakes battleground to hone their skills and test their mettle against relentless cyber threats. 

During the exercise, the teams will immerse themselves in a simulated environment where real computer systems face real-time attacks, mirroring the complexities of cyber warfare.

The hallmark of Locked Shields lies in its Red Team vs. Blue Team dynamics, a contest in which Blue Teams, comprising NATO CCDCOE member nations and their partners, are tasked with defending against orchestrated cyber assaults. 

These assaults, orchestrated by the Red Team, simulate the ruthless tactics employed by adversaries in the digital realm.

In this year’s iteration, Blue Teams will assume the role of national cyber Rapid Reaction Teams, thrust into a fictional scenario where they must safeguard a mock state’s information systems and critical infrastructure from a barrage of attacks. 

The exercise demands not only technical prowess in thwarting cyber threats but also strategic decision-making, crisis communication, and legal acumen in navigating the multifaceted challenges of cyber defense.

Image Credits: NATO Allied Land Command

Organizers hype Locked Shields as unparalleled in its fidelity, offering teams a unique opportunity to demonstrate their ability to maintain critical infrastructure and IT systems under intense pressure. 

With the spotlight on real-life scenarios and high-pressure environments, teams are pushed to their limits, showcasing their resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.

Past editions of Locked Shields have seen remarkable displays of skill and resilience. In 2022, the Finnish Blue Team distinguished itself with a solid network and web defenses, securing victory through meticulous defense strategies.

The following year, the Sweden-Iceland joint team clinched the top spot, showcasing not only technical expertise but also the capacity of Swedish defense forces to combat cyber threats effectively.

According to the CCDCOE, in Locked Shields 2024, the teams can anticipate a series of challenges designed to test their critical thinking, strategic acumen, and collaborative spirit. 

The CCDCOE added that the exercise’s strength lies in its holistic approach, combining technical prowess with strategic foresight, legal considerations, and effective communication strategies.