NATO Prepares For Cyber Warfare

This month, NATO engaged its cyber forces in Cyber Coalition 2022, a cyber exercise in Estonia simulating a cyber attack on a fictional island to prepare for anticipated cyberwar.  As conflicts have morphed from traditional military methods into the complex domain of cyberspace, around 150 NATO cyber security experts convened in Tallin to prepare for an anticipated cyberwar. 

The Cyber Coalition 2020 exercise involved more than 40 member states, allies and other organisations working  together to respond to and recover from, simulated cyber attacks on critical infrastructure like power grids and ships. The exercise spanned the globe, with nearly 1,000 cyber professionals participating remotely from their home countries.

In particular, NATO is closely monitoring the war in Ukraine, to help Ukraine and make it harder for Russia and other adversaries to hack into infrastructure in NATO member states and their allies.

Recently, hackers affiliated with Russian military intelligence launched destructive malware attacks against energy, water, and other critical infrastructure in Ukraine, simultaneously with missile strikes aimed at destroying power and water supplies to civilians across the country.  Russian hackers have also attacked in Poland, targeting a critical logistics hub, in a possible attempt to disrupt the movement of weapons and supplies.

On the information warfare front, Russia has increased the intensity of popular dissent over energy and inflation across Europe by boosting select narratives online through state-affiliated media outlets and social media accounts to undermine elected officials and democratic institutions.  So far this propaganda has had only limited public impact, but they foreshadow what may become broadening tactics during the winter ahead.

The world has never experienced an all-out cyberwar in which cyber attacks are used to the same devastating effect as physical strikes, such as shutting off critical services like power and water and preventing their restoration. 

NATO has been intentionally ambiguous about what level of cyber attack it would take for members to respond with either force or devastating cyber strikes of their own. The coalition’s cyber experts have been closely monitoring the war to learn lessons to prepare member states against cyber attacks carried out by adversaries. 

NATO is also reviewing how vulnerable their critical networks in NATO states are to cyber attacks. Those can run from sophisticated operations to plant malware on software updates to more common ransomware attacks.

The intensified pressure on cyber professionals within NATO countries and allied nations has made the ability to coordinate and test communication protocols essential. Both Finland and Sweden, have discarded their previous neutrality to apply for NATO membership and were included in the exercise. However, separate reports suggest that, despite the unprecedented intensity of cyber-attacks launched by Russia over the past few months, Ukrainians have defended remarkably well – learning the lessons from previous attacks on critical infrastructure in December 2015 and 2016.

What has not been so well analysed are the implications of the war in Ukraine for NATO force's preparations for fighting a future “great-power war.” Moscow’s major invasion of Ukraine is the first open war of this era and, like the Spanish Civil War which preceded World War 2, may prove to be a testing ground of operations and tactics for future conflicts. 

Politico:      Al Mayadeen:      Microsoft:      Infosecurity Magazine:    Just Security:    Yahoo:  

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