The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Israel’s budding cyber warriors find out winter is coming with ‘Game of Thrones’-themed training

Israeli army cadets are learning about cyber defense with a "Game of Thrones" simulation. (Courtesy Israeli army)

RAMAT GAN, Israel – Fans who are up to date with "Game of Thrones" will know there’s not much future for the Bolton clan.

Although the cruel Ramsay Bolton may have gone to the dogs in the fantasy fiction series based on George R.R. Martin’s popular novels, in Israel he lives on — albeit inside a computer screen, inside a small shack on a military base, as part of a week-long cyber defense training exercise.

The Boltons, Lannisters, Starks, Targaryens and Martell families are all part of the exercise designed to teach young cyber recruits how to work together in teams to battle the enemy online, this time using state-of-the art military technology in this particular scenario.

Each day for a week, White Walkers (aka the cyber trainers) send an evil computer-born virus to each family. The quicker and better each house defends itself, the more points they receive.

Eventually, one house will win and, like in the series, will be the ones to sit on the Iron Throne. By day three of the exercise, House of Targaryen is in the lead but the Lannisters and Starks are following closely.

Also like in the series, each house has its magic — think some kind of military or cyber metaphor for the dragons, lions, wolves that are the house symbols — and together in teams of four or five they must combat every challenge.

The television series' theme song plays loudly in the background. The atmosphere is dramatic.

“We know every note of the song by now,” quips one young soldier. None of the soldiers can be named in keeping with military protocol for intelligence units.

“The goal is for them to learn how to protect their house, or basically their network, from a cyber attack,” said Cadet A. “We use all types of viruses, some that have been used in the past to attack networks around the world.”

Cadet A, who designed the training program, said that using themes such as "Game of Thrones" — last time it was "Harry Potter" — keeps up morale and gets the young recruits interested in the program. "Game of Thrones" is popular in Israel and most of the young trainees acknowledge being fans of the series.

Just over a year ago, Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot announced plans to create a full-on Cyber Command, consolidating all of the military’s cyber training and planning. The new command will operate throughout all divisions of the army.

[How Israel is turning part of the Negev Desert into a cyber-city]

“Cyber challenges are the same throughout the world,” said Maj. Oron Mincha, spokesperson for the C4I  (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) Corps.

He said that almost every element of military life is dictated by technology. “The enemy wants to attack it and we have to protect it.”

But Mincha said that technology changes so quickly that what is learned today will be irrelevant in two years.

“It’s easy to get confused because of the 'Game of Thrones' theme but the soldiers come away with some real experience in cyber defense,” said Lt. M, Commander of Cyber Section in Officers Training.

“When they succeed they are happy but such attacks can also cause a lot of frustration. We are always trying to give them some real life experiences,” he said.

[Young Israeli cyber warriors learn to duel in the dark]

“We are using a lot of tools in this exercise and new technology,” said one of the trainees. He is part of the Stark team, although he has never heard of Jon Snow. “It’s made me realize that everything I do on the computer, big or small, has an impact on the outcome of the battle.”

Another trainee said he is learning a lot: “Because it is 'Game of Thrones,' it is a much more enjoyable exercise and it feels like we are really involved in a war.”

In this training exercise, he is part of the House Bolton and agrees that, like in the current series, there is not much hope at this stage for his team. In real life, he serves in the air force and said he has seen similar attempted attacks before.

So, who are Israel’s real White Walkers?

“That’s a state secret, my lips are sealed,” he said, turning back to the computer screen.