EU war game simulates cyber attack on military operations

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The European Union has conducted its first cyber war games involving a simulated attack on a military mission abroad, in an effort to test its ability to respond to computer-related threats.

In the simulation performed on Thursday, hackers sabotaged a naval exercise in the Mediterranean and then took to social media to disparage the EU and incite unrest in member states.

Over the course of the 90 minute exercise at a closed site in Tallinn, Estonia, officials attempted to respond to the attacks and contain the threat as new developments emerged, according to a report by Reuters.

Among the participants was German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who said the war game was "extremely exciting", adding that it highlighted the need for EU states to be aware of the potential damage a widespread cyber attack could inflict.

"The adversary is very, very difficult to identify, the attack is silent, invisible. The adversary does not need an army, but only a computer with an internet connection," said Leyen, speaking to Reuters.

Participants were asked to answer multiple choice questions on tablets as the attack unfolded, including decisions on whether to issue public statements.

The war game comes four months after the WannaCry ransomware campaign, one of the largest and most widespread cyber attacks in history, affecting over 200,000 computers in 150 different countries.

Public services, shipping lanes, and telecommunication companies were some of the worst hit industries. This was almost immediately followed by the NotPetya ransomware attack, which also targeted infrastructure, public services and power grids, some of which have yet to recover from the distruption.

"We needed to raise awareness at the political level," said Jorge Domecq, chief executive of the European Defence Agency, the organising body behind the war game, speaking to Reuters.

Part of that awareness will be a contingency plan to deal with any state sponsored threats, including attacks emerging from Russia. Estonia in particular has placed a greater emphasis on cyber security defences following an attack in 2007, something it claimed was an attempt by the Kremlin to spark a cyber war.

Although studies have since suggested that the attacks originated from a different source, hacking groups widely regarded to have been state sponsored, such as the Fancy Bear collective, are thought to have been influenced by Russia.

In February this year, UK defence secretary Michael Fallon accused the Russian government of "weaponising misinformation" in an effort to destabilise the EU, and called on Nato members to honour their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.