Speaking online at the CYBERSEC conference in Poland at the end of September, Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană emphasized NATO’s new focus to be more ‘cyber-ready’ and ‘cyber-secure’. Significantly, he noted that NATO designated cyberspace as a separate military domain, alongside land, sea, air, and space, adding it as an attack vector to be defended against.
According to NATO Newsroom:
The Deputy Secretary General also noted that actors have used the current COVID-19 crisis to exploit vulnerabilities in cyber space and there has been an increase in malicious cyber activities since the start of the crisis. He said that it is therefore important for Allies to continue to better protect their cyber infrastructure and increase their resilience to novel threats.
To deal with this new threat, Geoană noted that NATO agreed to establish a Cyberspace Operations Centre at the heart of the Alliance’s military command structure, reported NATO Newsroom. More importantly – and fairly underreported – the Deputy Secretary General noted a major shift in Alliance policy, adding that:
“We agreed that a cyber-attack could trigger Article 5 of our founding treaty where an attack against one Ally is treated as an attack against all.”
The Article 5 ‘collective defense’ statute in the NATO charter is the key to the Alliance.
Elevating cyber attacks to the level of armed attack against NATO sends a clear message primarily to Moscow that NATO could respond as a united front if any of its members (such as the smaller Baltic nations) come under cyber-attack.
Cyber attacks are one of Russia’s preferred weapons in its hybrid warfare armory.