Locked Shields 2022: EPITA, the stage for an international cyber defense exercise!
Locked Shields is the world’s most complex cyber defense exercise, as well as the largest in terms of size and number of participants. Organized since 2010 by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE), it brings together some 30 nations yearly to train more than 2,000 specialists, divided into teams. This year, from April 11 to 22, the EPITA Kremlin-Bicêtre campus had the honor of hosting the event and its participants, namely agents of the ANSSI, members of the Cyber defense commission (ComCyber) from the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Computer Emergency Response Team for EU institutions, bodies and agencies (CERT-EU).
A Dantesque cyber combat!
Locked Shields is very well known due to the fact that the exercise requires the teams involved to have advanced technical and organizational skills to deal with nearly 4,000 computer attacks affecting 140 complex systems related to many key areas of the economy and defense. This year, as in previous editions, the scenario was also ultra-realistic. Its theme? The interdependencies between national IT systems: “A fictitious island country, Berylia, is experiencing a deteriorating security situation. A number of hostile events have coincided with coordinated cyberattacks on key Beryllian military and civilian computer systems. The exercise planners have taken into consideration the current geopolitical situation to develop realistic and challenging scenarios that take into account today’s security environment where cyber incidents are not likely to occur in isolation and are used as part of a broader geopolitical strategy.” A remarkable program, deployed from April 19 to 22 from the CCDCOE headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia, which required an immense (and meticulous) logistical preparation and, inevitably, kept the experts at EPITA on their toes.
Philippe Dewost, Chief Executive Officer of EPITA and Claire Lecocq, Assistant Managing Director and Director of EPITA Paris / Credit: ComCyber
A fine example of European collaboration
“Our network infrastructure had to hold out… and so did the coffee machine!” smiled Philippe Dewost, the school’s chief executive office, who was “proud and happy” to host the participants for several days on behalf of EPITA. Indeed, EPITA was chosen by the event organizers in the fall of 2021 given its expertise in cybersecurity, its dedicated Bachelor’s degree and the fact that it is the only institution of higher education that is the founding member of the Cyber Campus. “Your participation inspired and encouraged our own students as well,” he said to the experts at the end of the exercise. We are all impressed by your energy and the fluidity with which you worked as a team in such a context. I hope that EPITA will have the opportunity to welcome you again and, who knows, provide you with the expertise of our 5th year future security engineers!”
Also on hand to celebrate the end of Locked Shields 2022, Guillaume Poupard, Director General of the ANSSI, reminded us of the importance of such an exercise: “Should we continue conducting cyber exercises knowing that reality is often worse than the scenarios used? Yes, of course! Each of these exercises allows us to test certain aspects, learn how to work together and, in this case, enjoy the synergistic collaboration with representatives from ANSSI, ComCyber and CERT-EU. Cyber threats require us to be strong at the national level and stand together at the European level. Working together is not always easy, but it is extremely positive, as we must be prepared for future realities!”
From left to right: Guillaume Poupard, Saâd Kadhi and General Didier Tisseyre / Credit: ComCyber
An opinion shared by Saâd Kadhi, head of CERT-EU. “I am very impressed and touched to be here as this has been a great example of European collaboration. Training together is important because more and more incidents are crossing borders. You have all shown a great deal of resilience in your work on this exercise, both in preparation and execution: congratulations!” For General Didier Tisseyre, commander of ComCyber, these exchanges and close collaborations tend to multiply. “I would like to thank everyone who has closely worked on this event, who have fought hard and put in long hours. You should be proud of the work you have done, the ties you have created, and the progress you have made both individually and collectively: what you have done at Locked Shields is part of a larger context that proves we are all determined and committed to acting on the international scene, demonstrating to our friends and enemies alike that we can be counted on. You have shown exceptional operational effectiveness and we would like to congratulate you!”
Finally, on the sidelines of the event, some fifteen 1st to 5th year EPITA students working on their Bachelor’s degree in the traditional engineering cycle or through apprenticeship, were able to discover the behind-the-scenes aspects and challenges of 2022 Locked Shields. For us, meeting with students is always a great opportunity to discover the men and women who will eventually work in our defense industry, as operational reservists or in the Ministry of the Army’s Cyber Defense Command center,” says Captain Nicolas of ComCyber, who was in charge of the presentation. In the army, we are always looking for specific profiles and skills that strengthen our agility … and even more so in cyber defense. Indeed, it is a multi-domain and multi-disciplinary environment that requires different profiles: some of us come from industrial computing or programming, or even from embedded systems computing, others from electronics, and still others from electromagnetics… I was impressed by the students’ knowledge of the tools and languages they have already mastered. If we have the opportunity to work together on future editions of Locked Shields, I’m sure that great performances will be in store!”
Among the students who participated in this meeting was Hugo Canavese (class of 2024), a first-year student in the Cybersecurity Bachelor’s program (Digital Security): “I will be working with the government very soon as part of my training, so I wanted to learn more about this type of exercise and the working conditions of the teams, in order to understand what my future job holds. In general, it is always interesting to discover the real life situations of attacks that we could potentially be confronted with in the future. Moreover, this year’s Locked Shields was very interesting given the diversity of the scenarios in a relatively restricted time period. These are not far-fetched situations: they can happen, especially with the rise of new technologies. These kinds of situations require a wide range of expertise, which is why it is so important to have a Cyber Campus that brings together all types of skills! In fact, it makes me want to keep working so that I can participate in national and even European defense later on!” As a third-year student interested in joining the SRS or TCOM program, before one day “defending France and other countries”, Paul Murelli-Soullier (class of 2024) also wanted to discover what goes on behind the scenes. “It was very well explained, with a clear context of what the challenge was. There were a lot of areas covered, sectors involved, and protocols used: we understood that the team must master both defense and offense. It definitely makes you want to participate!