European Union defense ministers have gathered in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, for an informal meeting that included a cyberexercise aimed at testing the bloc's ability to respond to a potential attack by hackers on its military structures.
The September 7 training exercise was dubbed EU CYBRID 2017 -- a reference to a mix of cyber and hybrid warfare techniques such as disinformation campaigns.
In a fictional scenario, hackers crippled the command of an EU naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea and launched a campaign on social media to discredit the operations and trigger protests, the Reuters news agency reported.
Each of the EU's defense ministers tried to contain the crisis over the course of the exercise.
Describing the exercise as "extremely exciting," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters that "the adversary is very, very difficult to identify, the attack is silent, invisible."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who took part in the exercise as an observer, said that the alliance saw a 60 percent increase in the number of cyberattacks against its networks over the last year.
"A timely exchange of information [with the EU] is key to responding to any cyberattacks," he added.
New Domain Of Operations
Members of the alliance last year recognized cyberspace as a domain of operations in which NATO must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea.
"We want to show ministers the impact of cybercampaigns," Tanel Sepp, deputy director for cyberplanning at Estonia's Defense Ministry, said ahead of the war game. "Cyber has become a conventional tool in modern warfare."
Estonia has put cybersecurity at the forefront of its six-month EU presidency running in the second half of 2017, after a series of global cyberattacks disrupted multinational firms, ports, and public services this year.
In 2007, Estonia’s private and government Internet sites suffered massive cyberattacks following a decision to move a Soviet-era war memorial from a square in Tallinn. The move also triggered street protests by ethnic Russians in Estonia and a diplomatic spat with Moscow.
Russia's military actions in Ukraine have also increased concerns about Moscow's intentions in NATO nations, particularly former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact satellites of the Soviet Union.
Russia occupied and seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backs separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year.
Those actions have prompted NATO to step up its defenses in the east, deploying four battalions to Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
In the course of their informal meeting in Tallinn, EU defense ministers were also due to discuss the topic of security challenges in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, said a statement from the Estonian EU presidency.
And, at a joint working lunch with EU foreign ministers, the defense ministers were set to discuss plans to develop cooperation in the field of defense.
Ahead of the talks, Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said it was "important that the new European Union defense policy initiatives, regarding which we are hoping to reach decisions by the end of the year, will lead to actual growth of the military capabilities of the member states."
He added that NATO continues to ensure collective defense in Europe, saying the EU defense cooperation “has opened the opportunity to increase Europe's contribution to NATO."
Among other things, EU foreign ministers will discuss whether the bloc should add more sanctions on North Korea as part of international pressure following Pyongyang's sixth nuclear bomb test.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa