Colosseum: Challenging IDF officers on the frontlines of cyber campaigns

The two-week-long drill sees officers and soldiers play the roles of the attacker and the defender.

Soldiers from the C4i Cyber Defense Directorate. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Soldiers from the C4i Cyber Defense Directorate.
In a cyber world without rules or borders, the officers in the IDF’s C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate are on the frontlines to guard the state and counter online threats and attacks by Israel’s online enemies.
Following the completion of the officers course in the Officer’s Training School, the directorate leads a special course for incoming cyber officers, specifically tailored to prepare them for their positions.
As part of the course, they spend several weeks perfecting their skills in electrical engineering, cyber defense and programming. They study the professional side of their future positions and become familiarized with the different units of the technological division, as well as a variety of programs and projects.
At the peak of the training, the officers are split into two teams and simulate a two week-long cyber attack which simulates a hacking or infiltration into IDF infrastructure and systems in real time.
“One side is on the defensive, and the other is on the offensive,” said Maj. “R”,  the Commander of the Technological officers complementary course.
During the drill, dubbed “Colosseum,” the offensive side simulating the enemy tries to take down IDF systems and identify the location of IDF troops on the ground, while the defensive side is busy foiling the cyber attack.
According to Maj. R, the drill, which takes place two or three times annually, challenges the officers to think outside of the box.
“The drill is dynamic and changing every moment, and forces the sides to think creatively and react to the move by the other side at every moment,” he said.
According to Maj. R, the challenges in the drill include commanding soldiers for the first time while at the same time having the know-how to deal with something unexpected, and helping their soldiers by building platforms to use in the drill in order to come up with solutions.
“The officers in a few weeks will get their own soldiers and their personal experience of commanding soldiers, and it’s important they do it during their training,” Maj. R. said. “In the end, we are working as a team, and our goal is to show that they don’t live in a vacuum and they have to see the other side.”
During the drill, senior officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel meet with the officers who explain what is happening at the moment, what they expect to happen in the near future, and what they recommend to do.
Soldiers of the IDF’s C41 unit work on around the clock to counter and deter all types of threats posed to Israel by her enemies. They are responsible for all computers and communication of IDF troops on the battlefield, as well as all military cyber defense.
The danger posed by cyber-crime or cyber-terrorism is a significant world-wide threat, and the IDF understands that both state actors and terrorist groups have the motivation and capabilities to do major damage to the state and critical infrastructure.
“This is something that they will do in real life, and they have to be as prepared as they can be,” said Maj. R. “The connection to the real world is paramount, especially the challenges that the real world can throw at them. There is nothing that they can learn in academia or the Internet. It’s the cyber defense that only the IDF can teach them.”