MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University students recently participated with 2,000 others in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) global cyber defense exercise.
Christopher Ramezan, assistant professor for cybersecurity, said the students followed Department of Defense and Defense Information Systems Agency instructions during the exercise.
Attacks and cyber breaches like the Colonial Pipeline that disrupted fuel distribution or the September 2021 Cream Finance breach that resulted in losses of over $34 million have demonstrated just how effective tech warfare can be .
“Wars are no longer fought only on the ground with guns, planes and tanks,” Ramezan said. “Cyber warfare is a legitimate concern.”
The “Blue Team” included engineering, cybersecurity, media and law students who played their part in protecting IT systems and critical infrastructure. During the two-day exercise, the students had to defend against 7,000 attacks in real time.
“Our students and other United States team members had to defend against a large-scale, coordinated cybersecurity attack,” Ramezan said. “This attack was carried out by experts.”
Locked Shields was organized by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, but there were participants from all over the world. During the simulation, students became part of national rapid cyber response teams deployed to assist a fictional country under a major attack.
“We supported the team in Estonia, so our students were on Estonian time,” Ramezan said. “They had to defend against cyberattacks at 1 a.m. here, so that was a challenge and they rose to it.”
Cybersecurity is not just a rapidly changing world in itself, but it is more of a profession or a calling that needs to be practiced. Locked Shields has been taking place since 2010 and has opened doors for students in the cyber defense industry.
“Cybersecurity is a very practical applied field,” Ramezan said. “You can’t just pass a test to be proficient in this.”
According to Ramezan, until computer systems become more advanced and part of our daily lives, cybersecurity will never be a settled science, it will always have to stay one step ahead of technology and criminals.
“Not only to protect our critical national systems, but to protect our information technology systems and our citizens’ data from compromise,” Ramezan said. “Whether it’s a foreign actor or even organized crime.
WVU has participated in the exercise twice and as a result has developed a partnership with the US Cyber Command Academic Engagement Network.