CRATE – Sweden’s national cyber training facility
One of Europe’s first and largest Cyber Ranges is located at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). We call it CRATE, and it allows us to deploy and maintain complex IT environments, such as control systems for critical infrastructure, and expose these to cyber attacks and other types of cybersecurity scenarios, in a controlled manner. Thereby building knowledge that enhances the national defence capability within the cyber domain as well as providing a platform for advanced, practical exercises for the personnel who are on the cyber defence line of critical systems.
A key prerequisite for achieving a higher national capability within the cyber domain is to be able to conduct cybersecurity experiments and studies under realistic conditions. It is also of vital importance that those who work operationally with critical and complex IT environments are given the opportunity to practice incident management to build their experience in the field. This cannot be done in operational systems because these must operate around the clock, every day of the year, and few organizations have the tools or finances necessary to create and maintain realistic virtual reference environments. This is why FOI, the Swedish Armed Forces and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency has developed CRATE.
A platform for essential cyber research
CRATE constitutes a platform for experimental research on cyber threats to complex IT environments, such as how AI (artificial intelligence) can be used to simulate attacks and defend systems. We also conduct research on incident management and forensics, such as what traces an attacker leaves behind in this type of complex environment and how these can be used to determine or confirm events and timelines for an attack.
The exercise activities conducted in CRATE provides opportunities to study how best to convey cyber-practical competence, and how to primarily acquire it. Our exercises, in a controllable environment, provides unique opportunities to study learning and how it arises in highly skilled groups. By combining both the deep technical insight and monitoring of current cyber threats, actors, and vulnerabilities with the cyber pedagogical and cyber didactic perspective where we investigate the effectiveness and effect of different types of exercise efforts, we build new knowledge. Applying this knowledge supports the development of Sweden's capabilities in the cyber domain, currently and in the future.
Knowledge transfer for increased ability in the cyber domain
Our mission is also to convey the knowledge we build. CRATE allows us to illustrate the societal effects of cyber incidents in a completely new way. The facility constitutes a unique educational platform that integrates IT environments, ICSs (industrial control systems), physical models, virtual models and scenarios. The result is a cyber-physical urban model with socially important systems such as energy distribution, drinking water plants, road traffic, and railways, controlled by ICSs to create realistic training environments.
The CRATE technology
CRATE consists of a cluster of more than 500 virtualization nodes. The virtualization servers are connected to two network zones; a control plane for administration and a game zone where experiments and exercises are carried out. To create and manage the virtual reference environments, proprietary software is used. With a high degree of automation, we increase the precision of the experiments that are carried out while streamlining the workload of creating and maintaining our environments.