NATO is changing its approach to cyber warfare. The intergovernmental military alliance is developing offensive strategies to battle hacker attacks officials claim to originate from Russia, North Korea, and China. This is a significant shift in strategy; NATO has always been on the defense, but that will change by early 2019, Reuters reports.
“There’s a change in the mindset to accept that computers, just like aircraft and ships, have an offensive capability,” said U.S. Navy Commander Michael Widmann.
Widmann also believes cyber attacks could be more effective than air strikes.
Apart from the United States, countries such as Germany, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, and Norway are developing offensive cyber warfare strategies and aiming for an official agreement by 2019. The agreement is meant to combat cyber attacks from China, North Korea, and Russia through which, officials claim, these countries undermine governments and steal military technology.
An elaborate, offensive, strategic approach to cyber warfare may be news, but cyber attacks are not. NATO officially recognized cyber as a domain of warfare at the Warsaw Summit in 2016. Governments use advanced computer code to shut down systems and take down websites. For example, Israel and the United States are believed to have developed a computer virus called “Stuxnet”. Released in 2010, this virus destroyed nuclear centrifuges in Iran. Neither country has denied or confirmed these claims.
Psychological warfare has, long ago, become almost synonymous with cyber warfare. For example, the British Army created a special force of “online warriors” back in 2015. Called the 77th Brigade, this combined Regular Army and Army Reserve unit, consists of soldiers skilled in psychological manipulation. Individuals familiar with social media are preferred.
Not all NATO members agree with deploying malware. This is a particularly sensitive topic in Europe because European governments do not want to be seen as authoritarian, which is why they have instead focused on protecting their cyber networks from intruders. However, some European intelligence officials agree that Russian cyber attacks, which include disinformation campaigns and attacks on telecommunications networks, pose a real threat.
“They are seeking to attack the cohesion of NATO. It looks quite strategic,” claims a British security official.
Another NATO member, Estonia, a country which suffered a large-scale cyber attack decades ago, intends to make its cyber command fully functional by 2020.
The biggest cyber “exercise” ever was held this week. Twenty-five NATO allies were tested against a fictional hacker group. The exercise took place in a military base in Estonia, where fictional scenarios based on real threats were played out.