The ancient capital of the young Baltic state has a long history as a fortified position. Tallinn’s medieval ramparts bear testimony to a successful defensive game through the ages, as does the beautiful old town, which has survived the ravages of wars and sieges largely intact. Over its roofs, Vana Toomas (Old Thomas) has been on the lookout since 1530. As one of Tallinn’s emblems, the wrought-iron guardsman straddling a weather vane atop City Hall represents a tradition of steadfast watchfulness.
Some modern-day ephemeral threats, however, cannot be warded off with physical towers and battlements, and so the defenders who have “Locked Shields” today are deploying virtual protections to ensure the continued operation of the infrastructures assigned to them. Twenty Blue Teams in multiple countries must maintain the services and networks of a simulated military airbase. In the sixth floor of the Swissôtel Tower, the referees watch as rows of monitors display a sustained cyberattack in real time.
“Locked Shields is the biggest and most complex international live-fire exercise in the world,” says Sven Sakkov, Director of the NATO CCD COE, which has organized the exercise since 2010. At its core is an issue that affects the very underpinnings of modern societies, he says: “Our everyday life depends on cybersecurity. It’s about the banking system, about the economic life of a modern country. The energy sector is one of the critical parts of that critical infrastructure, because everything we do needs electricity, and the assuredness of supply and the resilience of the grid are fundamental in how the modern world operates.”