Md. Airmen work with Estonia to create groundbreaking cyber information sharing platform for NATO

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chris Schepers
  • 175th Wing

Maryland Air National Guard cyber professionals are collaborating with their Estonian counterparts to build an information sharing platform between the two partner countries to ensure better security and information sharing for cyber threats.

Airmen from the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group in conjunction with the United States Air Force Research Laboratory, the Estonian Defense Forces, and Cybernetica, an Estonian cyber company, are collaborating to produce the platform between the two countries through a project titled Vormsi.

Project Vormsi is designed to enable information exchange and processing on various levels between multiple nations. Vormsi also allows for different rules of information exchange that are adaptable depending whether the cyber environment is peaceful or whether there are active cyber-attacks.

“The main benefit for both sides is there will be a transatlantic secure means for sharing cyber threat intelligence in a timely manner through the development of joint procedures and standards,” said Miiko Peris, Estonian Ministry of Defense Department of Innovation director. “We are also focusing on getting the cyber message format validated as a NATO Standardized Agreement. Once that is complete, the entire NATO alliance will benefit from the work of our bilateral project.”

Currently, the NATO alliance has no standardized message text format for cyberspace-related information so information-sharing, as well as the proper automation tools to enable on-time, efficient information and intelligence sharing is challenging.

“APP-115 includes standards for all other domains, but does not include cyber,” said James Reilly, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory cyber message standardization project manager. “NATO Article 5 calls for collective defense and we need standardization of our cyber data exchange formats to enable collective cyber defense.”

Vormsi is in year four of a projected six-year window for completion of the project even though it was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are just past the midway point of this project, but since 2022 we have had a good tailwind and some of our goals have been met quicker than we expected,” said Peris. “We are looking to finish the minimal viable product by this summer and after that there will be another round of fine tuning the scope to include more features to the Cyber Message Exchange System.”

According to Reilly, there are four stages to Project Vormsi: prototyping, testing/evaluating functionality, testing with operational users, and lastly transitioning the data standard to NATO.

The Maryland Air National Guard and Estonian Defense Force were ideal candidates to lead this due to their ongoing cyber relationship through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

“The relationship we have built over the years with the cyber professionals in the Estonian Defense Force has been an incredible asset as we move through the process of creating an information sharing platform that will eventually have benefits to our NATO partners and beyond,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Gruver, 275th Cyberspace Operations Group director of operations. “The work we are doing now will help the United States and our allies exchange cyber information in an efficient and effective manner during peace time or during active cyber threats.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the State Partnership Program between the Maryland National Guard and Estonia.