Critical alert: EU ministers test responses in cyber war game

European Union defence ministers will hold a cyber war game for the first time on Thursday to test their ability to respond to a potential attack by computer hackers on one of the bloc’s military missions abroad.

In a fictional scenario, the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean will be sabotaged by hackers who cripple the mission’s command on land and launch a campaign on social media to discredit the EU operations and provoke protests.

Each of the EU’s defence ministers will try to contain the crisis over the course of the 90-minute, closed-door exercise in Tallinn that officials have sought to make real by creating mock news videos giving updates on an escalating situation.

“We want to show ministers the impact of cyber campaigns,” said Tanel Sepp, deputy director for cyber planning at Estonia’s defence ministry.

“Cyber has become a conventional tool in modern warfare,” said Sepp, who helped plan the “EU CYBRID 2017” exercise, a reference to the game’s mix of cyber and hybrid warfare techniques such as disinformation campaigns.

After a series of global cyber attacks disrupted multinational firms, ports and public services on an unprecedented scale this year, governments are seeking to stop hackers from shutting down more critical infrastructure or crippling corporate and government networks.

Especially concerned about Russia since it seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Estonia has put cyber security at the forefront of its six-month EU presidency and proposed the exercise for defence ministers.

Estonia was hit by cyber attacks on private and government Internet sites in 2007 which peaked after a decision to move a Soviet-era statue from a square in the capital, Tallinn, provoked street protests by Russian nationals and a diplomatic spat with Moscow.

One of the world’s most Internet-savvy countries with 95 percent of government services online, Estonia has a separate cyber command in its armed forces. But it is not without its vulnerabilities.

International researchers said this week they have found a security risk with the chips embedded in Estonian identity cards that could allow a hacker to steal a person’s identity, although officials said there was no evidence of a hack.

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