A group of IDF cyber cadets recently took part in an intensive exercise that placed them in the world of Harry Potter, the famous book series by J.K. Rowling. During the exercise, the group of IDF computer wizards from the air force, navy, and infantry were split into four groups. Each group was named after one of the school houses in Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry from the series.

One of the exercises was modeled after Quidditch, the wizarding game played on flying broomsticks. Another exercise had the soldiers face off against Severus Snape and the Death Eaters. In the exercise, Snape was an insider, just like in Harry Potter. Snape launched the central attack and the Death Eaters attacked from the edges. The IDF cyber warriors had to defend against incoming attack as well as attack their fantasy invaders in return.

The top priority is to teach soldiers to recognize that even a basic error message may be suspect. At one point, the soldiers rushed to remove an infiltrator that had gained access to their systems. In the process, they missed the other attackers who were tearing down their virtual walls. Mistakes like these can lead to disastrous results. If an attacker gains access, they may be able to take down the early warning systems that alert Israelis of incoming attacks.

“The main challenge is taking people not trained in warfare, who have never seen an enemy face-to-face, and getting them used to being on high alert. They need to understand that what they see may not just be background noise,” said the commander of the advanced officers technology training course, Major Nimrod Focsenianu. “[It is] like a combat soldier who hears a sound in the bushes and doesn’t assume it’s a cat.”

Now, this group of programmers will take the skills they learned fighting Voldemort to the battlefield. There, it won’t be a simulation. There could be countless attacks. They will not know when, how, or where their enemies will attack. “We can’t look our assailant in the eyes and we don’t know when he or she will attack,” said Lieutenant Colonel Eli Gal, commander of the navy’s cyber unit. “Our working assumption is he is either already here, or he’s on the way.”