A new NATO cyber forum aims to increase cooperation between NATO members as well as with the private sector to ramp up the Western military alliance’s response to future cyber threats.
“NATO is perfectly positioned to share information, to spread innovation, and to coordinate our collective defence in cyberspace,” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the cyber defence forum on Thursday (9 November).
In his remarks, Stoltenberg urged NATO member states to enhance cooperation on new technologies and cyber security, and support joint projects with the private sector.
“Through NATO, we can work together to strengthen our own cyber-security, build a secure cyberspace for all, and keep our 1 billion people safe,” Stoltenberg said.
“It is not possible to keep our nations safe without the private sector. So, we need to talk, to plan and exercise more together,” he added.
Stoltenberg also reiterated that future cyberattacks could potentially trigger NATO’s Article 5, the alliance’s mutual defence clause.
NATO leaders in their Vilnius Summit communiqué restated the position of the alliance’s Strategic Concept that “cyberspace is contested at all times” and is not just a concern for NATO during the circumstances of an international armed conflict.
“We are determined to employ the full range of capabilities in order to deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including by considering collective responses,” they had said before summer.
Cautious of foreign technologies
In his remarks, Stoltenberg warned allies not to trust Chinese technology while developing critical, digital infrastructure.
“We have seen the results of relying on Russia for our energy supply. We should not repeat this mistake by relying on China to provide the technology for our critical networks,” he said.
“While China is not our adversary, it does not share our values. And it is determined to shape the future of cyberspace in its own image. With little transparency and no regard for human rights,” Stoltenberg said, accusing Beijing of using new technologies as tools for repression at home.
“And it is exporting its technologies, including facial recognition, as instruments of state control to countries around the world,” the NATO chief added.
More cooperation needed
Hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock this week (9-10 November), the Berlin conference focused on strengthening NATO’s cyber defence at the political, military and technical levels in the face of the acknowledged significant damage caused by cyber threats.
Its future aim will be to gather political, military and technical decision-makers on a yearly basis to discuss cooperation on cyber issues.
“Our commitment to prevention requires us to be able to actively defend ourselves in cyberspace if necessary,” Baerbock said at the forum’s opening.
“The conference will be a platform for experts discussing across these dimensions and will serve to foster cooperation in our alliance,” Baerbock said, adding the idea would be to “prepare the ground for better sharing of information and best practices.”
“We need to invest in our defences by working together between these different sectors, public and private,” she added.
Albania as lead example
“When hackers attacked the Albanian service [in 2022], the military domain was quick to act,” Baerbock said, referencing the Iranian cyberattack on Albania as a “typical case”.
The event affected key digital government infrastructure, such as one of the country’s main banks, Credins, and intercepted data was made public.
“Integrating the cyber technology led to an effective cyber defence,” she added.
Albania was able to prevent the complete shutdown of systems and the deletion of all data, which was the attackers’ main goal.
But while the response included the expulsion of Iranian diplomats and sanctions on the alleged masterminds from Tehran, the Albanian government continues to report facing Iranian cyberattacks.
International Digital Strategy
Germany, for its part, is looking to leave a ‘digital print’ on the international level as the government is gearing up to present its international digital strategy before year’s end.
In its strategy, the government aims to bring together international and digital issues across all ministries and to make Germany and the EU more competitive internationally.
“Germany should play a leading role here because the war is no longer purely analogue and has long since reached us digitally,” Vera Demary, a digital expert at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW), told Euractiv.
As digitalisation and cybersecurity do not stop at national borders, there is a need for internationally coordinated action by governments and states.
“Against the background of this project, the NATO Cyber Defence Summit comes at a good time because it fits well thematically,” Demary added.
The United Nations, which China and Russia are currently using to reshape the global digital order in a more authoritarian way based on the Cybercrime Convention, will also play a key role in the equation.
“Coordinated behaviour on the part of NATO partners is important in order to be able to act efficiently and effectively,” Demary also told Euractiv.
[Edited by Kjeld Neubert/Luca Bertuzzi/Alexandra Brzozowski/Nathalie Weatherald]
Read more with EURACTIV