By Army Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg, 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade
TARTU, Estonia -- Maryland National Guard cyberwarriors supported their Estonian counterparts during Exercise Hedgehog 2018, also known locally and by NATO as Exercise Siil 2018, held here beginning May 2.
Major activities are being conducted in southeast Estonia and northern Latvia. The purpose of the exercise is to train on territorial defense, both in conventional and asymmetrical warfare.
Guard members from the 175th Wing's Cyber Operations Group from Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Maryland, and their Estonian partners employed the exercise as an opportunity to leverage their joint knowledge and skills from both civilian and military backgrounds.
They incorporated cyber scenarios that could cause potential threats if it were a real situation.
One of the exercise’s goals was to build cyber awareness with physical objects to test policy and procedures.
The names of the exercise participants are withheld due to security considerations.
"We used a technique known as cyber exploitation to test [the Estonians’] internal cyber awareness," said a Maryland Guard cyberwarfare operator.
Scenarios involving rogue wireless access points, phishing attacks with links to a website, and leaving quick response codes with Siil 18 branding to capture basic information from those connecting were used as means for testing the internal cyber awareness levels of the Estonian military personnel.
There was also removable media loaded with malware, ransomware attacks, and planting cell phones within units to track locations.
"Essentially, they are breaking into your house, but not stealing anything," the Maryland Guard cyberwarfare operator said. "They are leaving a nice little note behind, however, letting them know we were here."
These scenarios mirror real world ways attackers attempt to collect information. Obtaining such information in reality could allow an adversary to gain intelligence of the ongoing military activities and potentially compromise planned missions.
"This is not the first time the 175th COG has trained with the Estonian Defense Forces," the Maryland Guard cyberwarfare operator said. "Our relationship goes back at least nine years, if not longer."
State Partnership Program
Normally, the exercise would focus primarily on air and land operations with little to no cyber-related situations. However, incorporating the cyberspace domain allows Estonia and the Maryland Guard to widen the scope of participation through the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
"This training is so valuable to exercise our shared goals and values," said an Estonian military member. "The everyday tactical and technical efforts put substance to all the cooperation that goes into our established relationship."
The exercise brings together members of the Estonian Defense League, Women's Home Defense League, and regular Defense Force.
Estonian police, border forces and emergency management personnel also participated. With cooperation from 15 NATO allied forces, over 15,000 personnel participated in the exercise. The Michigan and Oklahoma National Guard also participated.