NATO Set to Challenge Russia with Military-Backed Cyber Capabilities

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed many uncomfortable truths, and among them is the West’s vulnerability to politically motivated cyber attacks.

We have repeatedly seen pro-Russian hackers target Ukraine and its allies in a variety of ways. Many have been propaganda – such as an attempted strike on the Eurovision Song Contest after Russia was banned from the event.

However, other attacks have supported ground forces. Russia launched a malware intrusion on the Ukrainian military hours before it began its full-scale invasion.

Meanwhile, Kremlin-sponsored hackers conducted a phishing campaign using a Ukrainian soldier’s email address to disrupt efforts to help refugees flee the country.

In a broader sense, technology has played a crucial role in the conflict. Satellite networks such as Elon Musk’s Starlink, drone-makers like China’s DJI, and social media reportage have helped shaped the war.

It’s therefore perhaps no surprise to learn that NATO wants its members and defence technology firms to step up their efforts in combating Russian-backed attacks.

The defence alliance convened this week for a summit in Madrid, where they presented a “Strategic Concept” for protecting the West from foreign threats, including cyber attacks.

What does it propose?

According to Politico, which spoke to several NATO officials, the strategy includes plans to directly involve private-sector firms in government-backed responses to cyber threats. It includes a proposal to set up a platform to share cyber attack information and intelligence.

NATO also wants to invest $1 billion into emerging technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and space tech. The investment would include a “transatlantic DARPA” called DIANA (Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic).

It’s unclear whether the DARPA will be directly affiliated with the existing U.S. government agency, which provides research and development for emerging technologies for military use.

NATO’s strategy also includes plans to set up virtual joint cybersecurity teams, which will be deployed in the event of a large-scale attack.

It mirrors the E.U.’s cyber rapid-response team, which was deployed across Europe after a call to help from Ukraine. The newly formed group comprised experts from six countries, who volunteered remotely and on-site to help defend Ukraine from cyber attacks.

A NATO official said the plan was necessary because Ukraine has been under “a nonstop attack, on government services, on military command-and-control, on regular internet and internet communication. The fact that they weren’t successful in knocking it all out doesn’t mean they didn’t try.”

The official added that the Strategic Concept “clearly puts cyber also into the context of Russia as a threat to allies’ security, and that cyber is one of the means it uses to threaten our partners”.