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Royal Navy and Ukrainian cyber experts combine forces for cyberspace battle during Estonia exercises

22 February 2023
Royal Navy and Ukrainian cyber warfare experts fended off virtual attacks to ‘national infrastructure’ during a large-scale cyber battle exercise in Estonia.

Thirty-four teams from 11 nations tested their cyber defence skills during the British Army-organised Defence Cyber Marvel 2 in Tallinn, which included personnel from across the globe, including Ukraine, United States, Japan, Singapore, Kenya and Oman. 

The Royal Navy’s cyber operations specialists based in Portsmouth are usually on the virtual front lines across the world, protecting ships and RN bases from threats round the clock but headed to a cyber range in Estonia’s capital to join forces with a Ukrainian cyber unit.

As part of a 900-strong UK contingent also from the British Army and RAF, the combined RN/Ukrainian team were tasked with responding to simulated cyber threats, including attacks to networks, industry control systems and unmanned robotic systems – simulating some of the tactics Russia used to disrupt Ukrainian cyberspace in the early days of the invasion one year ago.  

It was a test of guile and mental agility designed to stretch the most experienced cyber specialists, allowing allies and partners to learn and sharpen skills together. 

The Royal Navy and Ukraine team were judged to be the most improved at the end of the week-long exercises, which were run as a competition with participants judged on their effectiveness and speed.

 “Hosting and supporting the Ukrainian cyber team has been an experience not to be forgotten,” said Chief Petty Officer Roger Brand, Royal Navy Maritime C5ISR Support Unit (MCSU) Cyber Protection Team Leader.

“Leading a bi-national team of cyber experts was a challenge but through the common language of ‘geek’, collaborative working became a norm.

“Although both nations have different strategic and tactical procedures, through continued communication these boundaries were moulded into an advanced cyber capability. 

“Talking with my Ukrainian counterpart we discovered this exercise was based very, very closely on the real world events a year ago. 

“Tradecraft, ideas and knowledge were freely shared, friendships developed and will no doubt continue in what has been an excellent exercise. I look forward to DCM3 with an Indo-Pacific focus next year.”

He added: “I really had a good time learning from our Ukrainian counterparts and I hope they learned something from us. We will stay in touch and hopefully they can reach out to us in the future if they ever need technical advice.”

Royal Naval Reservists were tasked with simulating the cyberspace attacks, breaking into networks for their colleagues to fight off – allowing the teams to sharpen their ability to fend off adversaries.

Many teams were based in their home countries but were connected virtually to a ‘cyber range’ controlled in Tallinn, where the Royal Navy Cyber Protection Team from the Maritime C5ISR Support Unit (MCSU) from Portsmouth were based throughout the exercises.

The unit delivers 24/7 defensive monitoring of networks from the RN Cyber Security Operating Centre on Portsdown Hill.

Lieutenant General Tom Copinger-Symes, Deputy Commander Strategic Command, said:  “Events like Defence Cyber Marvel showcase the talent we already have in Defence. They get to exercise and learn with folk from a vast array of different nations, backgrounds and specialisations - all united by a common purpose – to hone their skills to a fine edge, in order to protect our people, our prosperity and our principles.

“At UK Strategic Command we’re committed to finding and nurturing individuals with those skills, especially those who are about to finish their studies and are eager for a unique challenge on the front-line of UK’s defence.”

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