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Md. Guard exercises cyber awareness with Estonian comrades

By Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg | 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade | May 18, 2018

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TARTU, Estonia —The 175th Wing's Cyber Operations Group from Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Maryland, supported the Estonian Defence League's cyber defense unit May 2-12 during Exercise HEDGEHOG, also known as Siil 2018.

The Maryland and Estonian cyber warfare operators used the exercise as an opportunity to leverage their joint knowledge and skills from both civilian and military backgrounds. They incorporated cyber scenarios within the training areas that could cause potential threats to the overall exercise if it were a real situation.

One of the EDL's goals was to build cyber awareness into the exercise with physical objects meant to potentially test policy and procedures of Estonian participants.

"We used a technique known as cyber exploitation to test their own internal cyber awareness," said a Maryland Guard cyber warfare operator. "Normally we play a defensive role, but the EDL wants to see people blowing the whistle in these scenarios, which is very creative."

Scenarios involving rogue wireless access points, phishing attacks with links to a website, and leaving quick response codes with Siil 18 branding to capture basic information from those connecting were used as means for testing the internal cyber awareness levels of the Estonian Defence personnel.

There was also removable media loaded with malware, ransomware attacks, and planting cell phones within units to track locations.

"Essentially, they are breaking into your house, but not stealing anything," the Maryland Guard cyber warfare operator said. "They are leaving a nice little note behind, however, letting them know we were here."

These scenarios mirror real world ways attackers attempt to collect information. Obtaining such information in reality could allow an adversary to gain intelligence of the on-going military activities and potentially compromise planned missions.

"This is not the first time the 175th COG has trained with the Estonian Defence Forces," the Maryland Guard cyber warfare operator said. "Our relationship goes back at least nine years, if not longer."

Normally, the exercise would focus primarily on air and land operations with little to no cyber-related situations. However, incorporating the cyberspace domain allows Estonia and the Maryland Guard to widen the scope of participation through the National Guard's State Partnership Program.

"This training is so valuable to exercise our shared goals and values," said the EDL cyber member. "The everyday tactical and technical efforts put substance to all the cooperation that goes into our established relationship."

The interviewees in this story requested that their names not be used in the article due to security concerns.

HEDGEHOG 2018 is the largest exercise ever conducted in Estonia with a nation-wide training area and major activities conducted in South-East Estonia and Northern Latvia. The purpose of the exercise is to train on territorial defense, both in conventional and asymmetrical warfare.

Internally, the exercise brings together members of the Estonian Defence League, Women's Home Defence League, and regular Defence Force.

Additionally, Estonian police and border forces and emergency management personnel also participated. With cooperation from 15 NATO allied forces, over 15,000 personnel participated in Exercise HEDGEHOG 2018. The Michigan And Oklahoma National Guard also participated in the exercise.