NATO Cyber Coalition Conference unites exercise planners

  • Published
  • By Matthew McGovern
  • 16 AF
Approximately 100 NATO cyber defenders, from more than 20 nations, gathered for the Cyber Coalition 2023 Mid Planning Conference, May 16 - 18, 2023, here.

The goal of the conference was to streamline a realistic exercise scenario to test capabilities, identify cyber defense and incidents, while coordinating efforts for the end-of year exercise.

“The easiest way to put this is we are better together,” said Col. Melissa Stone, 16th Air Force, deputy commander. “Each of us has our own unique challenges; from our nations we bring our own skills and capabilities, legal concerns, different types of government, but also our own strengths. As we come together to have this engagement, I hope we can work to understand the challenges that we face but also leverage the capabilities that each of us bring from each of our respective countries to move cyber defense forward.”

Stone said the U.S. Department of Defense recently released the Defense Cyber Strategy that highlights the need to build partnerships and work with allies and partners to defeat shared risks through cyberspace.

“I am hopeful we can work together to remove barriers to cooperation, increase shared situational awareness, and information sharing, and we can train and exercise together for the benefit of the alliance and our partners and allies across the globe as we face a very acute threat,” Stone said.

The scenario the planners create prepares cyber defenders for real-life challenges, including disruption of NATO and allied assets after cyber-attacks, and according to Tom Koolen, from NATO Communications and Information Agency, coordination to resolve these are key.

“It’s very important to know each other, have the exercise objectives, and have them mapped before we even hand over execution,” said Koolen. “Knowing how much time you need for your national decision making, and your ability to share in a bilateral context, and in a NATO context, is really exercising.”

Another goal for Cyber Coalition 2023 is for the nations to experiment with evolving cyber threats.

“Every year the perception of cyberspace changes and we have to adapt to that,” said Koolen. “When you go to collaborative incident handling, there is always someone who hits the nail on the head and it’s not always the same country.”

“Knowing if you are trying to beat with 31 nations, there is always one who finds the threat so incredibly fast because they happen to go on the first attempt in the right direction, and we can benefit from that alliance,” said Koolen. “When there is an alliance that is able to exploit that, it makes you so much stronger than the 31 individual nations.”