Fake News Attacks in NATO Cyber War Game

A fake news site attacking a NATO member recovering from the pandemic is part of the fictional scenario in an alliance cyber war game this week billed as the world’s largest.

In the exercise, non-NATO member “Crimsonia” attacks vital infrastructure such as water supplies and mobile networks on the island state of “Berylia,” as well as the financial sector.

Crimsonia is also engaging in information warfare, persuading the people of Berylia that their government is responsible for a series of accidents through fake news and social media posts.

The Locked Shields 2021 exercise included 2,000 experts from 30 countries and was organized by the Estonia-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE).

“This year the exercise featured several new dilemmas,” said Commander Michael Widmann, Head of the CCDCOE Strategy Branch.

“The exercise examined how evolving technologies, such as deepfakes, will shape future conflict. The cyber domain and information warfare operate hand in hand in the modern environment,” he said, calling for governments to have “strong strategic communication policies” to mitigate these risks.

In the exercise, he said the teams had to find ways for the government of Berylia to communicate “in a manner that does not confuse or, worse yet, panic members of the general public.”

Adrian Venables, a British academic who has been involved in the exercise for the past seven years, told AFP that while the information campaign part of the exercise was voluntary it was designed so that teams taking part would score higher.

Venables said the information warfare elements “provide additional realism and context” although the main focus of the exercise is still “technical.”

The exercise was taking place alongside a real-world cyber defense conference in Tallinn at which NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana on Thursday warned that the pandemic has made countries more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“Russia and China have tried to use the COVID-19 crisis to exploit vulnerabilities, including those in cyberspace, with cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns, designed to sow distrust and division in our democratic societies,” he said.

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