NATO Prepares for War With Russia With Simulated Naval and Cyberattacks

Around 1,000 participants from 30 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) gathered in the tiny Baltic nation of Estonia late last month to prepare for war with an enemy that looks a lot like Russia, according to reports.

The exercises were dystopian and catastrophic, and included simulated cyberattacks, poisoned water supplies, a hacked drone employed to kill NATO soldiers and a faulty power grid. As tensions ratchet up between Moscow and the West, NATO countries, especially those like Estonia that border Russia, are increasingly preparing for the worst. The Locked Shields live-fire cyber exercise is a key part of that preparation.

"The exercise required participants to counter high-intensity attacks on a fictitious country's IT systems and critical infrastructure networks. Teams had to maintain the IT systems while reporting incidents, managing crises, making strategic decisions, solving digital forensics tasks and dealing with other challenges," according to a report on homeland preparedness. "The exercise involved a total of 4,000 virtualized systems and more than 2,500 attacks."

The attacks were staged as the U.S. and its NATO allies accused Russia of perpetrating a variety of real-life cyberattacks against the critical infrastructure and financial systems of foreign countries. In February, the U.S. and the U.K. both blamed Russia for perpetrating the NotPetya cyberattack, a computer virus that hit companies in Ukraine, Europe and the U.S., causing billions of dollars in damages. Following the attacks, Britain's Foreign Office declared that the world had entered "a new era of warfare."

Under a month later, in March, the U.S. government announced that it believed Russia had successfully hacked the U.S. power grid, a nightmare scenario experts had been warning about for years. The hackers were allegedly able to gain access to the control systems of at least one power plant. They were discovered before they caused any serious damage. But in 2015, Russia also hacked into Ukraine's power grid and temporarily cut power to around 200,000 people.

It was in that context that Estonia hosted this year's Lock Shields exercises. Participants broke up into teams to see who could best defend the fictitious nation-state that was clearly modeled on a Baltic nation. Teams from France and the Czech Republic came in second and third place in the competition, while a multinational NATO "blue team" won, organizers announced this week.