The Brazilian Ministry of Defense-sponsored Cyber Guardian exercise is the Southern Hemisphere’s main annual cyber warfare training exercise. Its objective is to simulate cyber threats to critical structures — hydroelectric power plants, banks, and airports, for example — in order to stimulate collaborative actions to protect the information technology systems of these structures.
The fourth edition, carried out August 16-19 in Brasilia, brought together 110 military institutions as well as civil organizations and companies, which participated with some 450 representatives. The number of participants this year was nearly double the 2021 edition. The New York National Guard — Brazil’s partner under the U.S. Department of Defense State Partnership Program — was among the foreign participants, with two members of its Army National Guard Cyber Protection Team. It was the first time the U.S. institution was present at the exercise, which also included professionals from Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, Estonia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Peru, Romania, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
“As we become more dependent on technology, we become more exposed to cyberthreats. This is a shared security challenge among all of our partners in Latin America. Strengthening partnerships on cybersecurity will make us all safer,”, Major David M. Myones, New York National Guard State Partnership Program director, told Diálogo.
The Cyber Guardian exercise divided the activities into three phases: virtual simulation, constructive simulation, and study group. In the first phase, participants carried out an activity known as capture the flag, which challenges contestants to identify and correct vulnerabilities in computer systems.
During the constructive simulation phase of the exercise participants formed groups in the areas of information technology, social communication, legal, and top administration. These groups functioned as crisis cabinets which had to find solutions to the cyber events that were impacting the organizations. “The discussions in the crisis cabinets demand actions at the decision-making and managerial (crisis management) and technical (incident response) levels,” the Brazilian Army’s (EB) Department of Science and Technology (DCT) told Diálogo.
As for the third phase, it actually began before the exercise started. “During the exercise preparation phase, study groups are formed within critical infrastructures to elaborate strategies that contribute to the country’s cyber resilience. The conclusions and results are presented in the after-action analysis of the Cyber Guardian 4.0 Exercise,” the DCT said, adding that the collaborative work simulated during the exercise among participating institutions goes beyond the event. “Cyber Guardian allows for the creation of a great forum to exchange information and experiences among all sectors beyond execution days.”
Foreign participants also discussed possible future joint cyber exercises, as well as getting to know the main Brazilian cyber defense structures and equipment, located in Brasilia.
For Maj. Myones, it was a surprise to see “so many similarities between the Brazilian and [the New York Army National Guard] NYARNG’s cyber efforts. Every keynote speaker represented their organizations excellently. The main lesson learned is that our cyber efforts are so similar right down to using very similar software and hardware. This will allow for our forces to become more interoperable through participation in these exercises and other events. Future joint exercises, soldier exchanges, and cyber trainings will be fairly seamless to plan due to these similarities.”