WASHINGTON — A team of cyber-defense professionals from Finland recently won an international competition involving dozens of squads, thousands of virtualized systems and “live-fire” digital attacks.

The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in an April 22 message crowned the Finnish crew the winner of Locked Shields 2022, the largest exercise of its kind. A joint Lithuania-Poland team secured second and an Estonia-Georgia team locked in third.

Carry Kangur, the head of cyber exercises at the CCDCOE, in a statement said the competition was “very close,” with the winner edging ahead because of solid defense against network and web attacks and excellence in situation reporting.

“Overall, they scored above average in all categories, and this is one of the important aims of Locked Shields,” Kangur said. “The most successful are the teams who manage to tackle all challenges in different categories, as the strategic decision makers and technicians will have to work together to properly address all the elements of a large-scale cyberattack.”

This year’s Locked Shields specifically focused on the interdependencies of international IT systems.

The multi-day event is typically conducted under intense conditions, replicating a spreading crisis that ropes in the military and civilian worlds and the public and private sectors. Simulation specifics were not immediately clear.

“All 24 participating teams can consider themselves winners,” Kangur said, “as hopefully they will go home with a valuable, cutting-edge and relevant training experience that only Locked Shields can offer, since it provides a unique opportunity for teams to test their skills in a safe environment.”

The need for combined cyber exercises is increasingly evident given current events, including the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s unprovoked belligerence in Ukraine, the CCDCOE said in a statement this month.

Hackers and other malign actors have pelted Ukraine with cyberattacks in the run up to, and during, Russia’s latest invasion. Moscow has denied involvement.

“Societies have become more dependent on virtual solutions and this has greatly increased the attack surface for malicious actors, requiring effective collaboration between public and private entities to ensure the systems we depend on can be protected,” the CCDCOE said.

Ukraine joined the center of excellence as a contributor this year.

The CCDCOE, located in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, is staffed and financed by the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea and others. It serves as medium for cyber education, cooperation and research and development.

Finnish leaders are debating formally joining the NATO alliance, with a decision whether to apply expected in the coming weeks, Reuters reported April 20. Finland is already considered a close partner and supports the cyber center.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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