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Cybersecurity drill could be ‘for real tomorrow’ – NCSC

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Ireland has taken part in a major international cyber defence training exercise.

A joint Irish and South Korean team of nearly 200 personnel were involved in the operation which saw staff having to deal with critical infrastructure coming under simulated attacks from hackers.

It was led by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The teams involved took on the role of national cyber rapid reaction operatives that were deployed to assist the fictitious country of Berylia which was under attack from its equally fictitious enemy Crimsonia.

In addition to securing complex IT systems, the participating teams also had to solve forensic, legal, media and information warfare challenges.

Operation ‘Locked Shields’ is run by the Estonia-based NATO Co-operative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE).

Ireland is one of eight, non-NATO members which are contributing participants in the CCDCOE.

‘Locked Shields’ has been run since 2010 and is the largest and most
complex international live-fire cyber defence exercise in the world

“This real-time network defence exercise is a unique opportunity for us to practise protection of national IT systems and critical infrastructure under the pressure of a severe cyber-attack,” said NCSC Director Richard Browne.

“It also provides us with an opportunity to build relationships not just across Europe, but across the globe as seen in our teaming with the Republic of Korea,” he added.

Ireland’s involvement in the operation was supported by the Defence Forces.

“International cyber exercises like this one are key capability builders for the Defence Forces as we progress the implementation of the DF’s Joint Cyber Defence Command,” said Director of the Defence Forces Communication and Information Services Corps, Colonel Mark Staunton.

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Mr Browne said it was a “huge endeavour for the NCSC and the State as a whole and the culmination of an awful lot of work over many years.”

He told RTÉ’s Drivetime that Ireland received a number of partnership offers from “across Europe and further afield, and South Korea was chosen because it would be a challenging and very useful partner.”

South Korea, Mr Browne said, possesses “some very useful capabilities …we figured we had a lot to learn from them.”

In the “full-spectrum cyber conflict between the two fictional states”, Ireland played the role of ‘Berylia’, which came under “rolling attack”, being forced to defend critical defence systems, telecoms, Government and energy infrastructures, while at the same time “testing our ability to coordinate nationally during an incident of this very serious scale,” he said.

‘We were training because we could be doing this for real tomorrow’

It was a “full-scale simulation of the most serious type of cyber incident you could have,” Mr Browne said.

“We were not training just for the sake of it, we were training because we could be doing this for real tomorrow.”

‘Locked Shields’ has been run since 2010 and is the largest and most complex international live-fire cyber defence exercise in the world.

This was Ireland’s first time taking part in the operation.

Speaking during a visit to the NCSC to observe the exercises, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications with special responsibility for Communications Ossian Smyth said he was delighted to see the level of talent and dedication on display by the Irish team.

“The range of expertise available from public, private and academic organisations is a testament to Ireland’s strength as a digital economy with vibrant cyber security skills,” Mr Smyth said.

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