NATO scrambles to knit together a cyberwar strategy

Online campaign exposes fault lines within western military alliance


OTTAWA – It’s the kind of battle you can’t hear, but one that’s been raging with varying degrees of intensity since the crisis in Ukraine erupted — and one the supreme commander of NATO describes in the most chilling terms.

With public attention focused on opaquely uniformed Russian special forces in Crimea and supposedly separatist militias in eastern Ukraine, an entirely different — and insidious — shadow army has been operating online in a campaign that’s already exposing fault lines within the western military alliance.

Moscow’s stealth annexation of Crimea was accompanied by a highly co-ordinated cyber campaign aimed at civilian and military targets — a brutally effective effort, said U.S. Gen. Phillip Breedlove, who is visiting Canada this week.

Where a bygone era of warfare saw railways, bridges, factories and command posts bombed to ashes, these days servers and websites are hacked and forced to crash, putting a grinding halt to the wheels of government and civilian life.

“Clearly, cyber was a huge part of what Russia has done,” Breedlove said.

“When they took Crimea, cyber was a part of a well-planned, total decapitation of Crimea from the command and control structure of Ukraine. Ukraine was absolutely disconnected from being able to do anything with their forces in that area. Cyber was one of three tools used, and used quite exquisitely.”

It’s a stark warning for NATO, which has been slow to fully embrace cyberwarfare concepts and is still debating internally where the line is between a defensive and offensive posture.

The issue is so urgent and the stakes so high that staff are working furiously to come up with a position and recommendations for NATO leaders before they gather in Britain for a summit meeting in September.

“I think we will take up cyber at the summit,” Breedlove said. “That question will have to be addressed.”

The leaders will also consider whether NATO’s recent escalation of aircraft, ships and troops in eastern Europe will continue past Dec. 31, and whether a more permanent western military presence will be necessary in countries like Poland and the Baltic states, he said.

“I think this is something we have to consider, and we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations.”

Given the unfolding unrest, Breedlove hedged on whether a previously planned U.S.-led military exercise in western Ukraine — known as Rapid Trident — would go forward in July, saying it has not yet been cancelled.

Canada’s top military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson, acknowledged that Canadian troops are slated to be part of the exercise, but couldn’t say how many. There are 50 soldiers currently involved in a training exercise that’s already underway in Poland.

The frigate HMCS Regina and six CF-18 fighters with associated ground support are also operating in Europe.

NATO developed a cyber defence policy last year, but it’s “relatively new” and only a first step, Breedlove conceded.

“The bottom line is: Good work has started. I believe more work needs to be done.”

As if to underline the nature of the threat, several of NATO’s public websites were shut down at the height of the Crimean crisis in March by a so-called denial of service attack — a hacking tactic that essentially overloads a website with nuisance traffic.

NATO officials said no critical networks were affected in the assault, perpetrated by a shadowy group calling itself ‘Cyber Berkut’ — a reference to the riot police deployed against protesters by ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

There have also been published reports of a Russian-made virus infecting Ukrainian government computers and cyberattacks against the Kremlin and Russia’s central bank.

By its very nature, NATO is a defensive alliance. But some in military, intelligence and cyber circles argue that the ability to go on the offensive is necessary, given the nature of modern threats.

Whether it’s legitimate to pre-emptively attack and break up hacking networks, or implant virulent software viruses, as was done to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, is a legal, ethical and moral issue NATO leaders will soon have to weigh.

And then there’s the alliance’s timeworn internal disunity.

Some members, notably the U.S., Canada, Britain and France, have sophisticated cyber capabilities, while others — including some of NATO’s more established members — are more vulnerable.

“There is a great pressure in the nations because every nation, including mine, feels like it needs to do more to defend itself,” said Breedlove.

“So, there’s a little reluctance to begin to spend on each other to defend each other. This is a friction that I think will be worked through in the next months — or so.”

Filed under:

NATO scrambles to knit together a cyberwar strategy

  1. NATO,,,,and Canada in spite of what this says….are at least 15 years behind the times.

    • …, at the very least the (modern) NATO is a boat-anchor that has wasted trillions of taxpayers money, and for what? – settling korea?, vietnam? iraq?, iraq2?, afghanistan?, … ?
      Soooo, how did any of those things turn out ?!
      And now, we are paying even more for them to play with NSA and their love affair with cyberwarfare?
      It’s NOT just that cyberwar is wrong, it’s that they simply need to create even more excuses to actually attack “us”.
      Cyberprotection is ALL that is really needed to guard our Worldwide Public Internet, but they don’t want to do that, do they ? -that would be too easy and non-profitable.
      Instead, they actually want to “manufacture” the new warscape, just to waste even more taxpayers money on silly lobbyists/gov’t lackies,….
      NATO isn’t guarding OUR freedom, they’re just guarding their (capitalists) corp lobbyists, and their untraceable interests,…, for whomever is the highest bidders. -follow the money trail and you’ll know all about NATO(today).

      • NATO really exists so US, Canada, UK, France can bypass domestic laws on warfare. If Obama/Saudi is ticked off with Gadaffi, no need to go to congress for authorizations, just us NATO. Major types of warfare include:

        – old style WW II military combat.
        – media propaganda to vilify others for public support (just like Adolph did).
        – UN and IMF monetary and sanctions warfare.
        – electronic welfare including Internet.

        Given G8 countries are also the debt fraud and failing countries, we are losing big to the rest of the world. Nothing worse than a angry failing debtor nation, can’t pay the bills with real money but they can covert/bomb and kill people for power, resources and corrupt banking.

        Libya wasn’t about the people, most feel they would be better off with Gadaffi, as it was about power, control, oil and acceptance of US/Euro fiat fraud money they could not spend. Every western politician loved Gaddafi until he asked for gold in exchange for oil and was going to organize a United Western African state to fend off US-Euro colonialisms and improve the commoners lives. Even Saudi approved it as he wasn’t a UAE/Saudi/Sunni puppet nation.

        Always forget the good talk, and watch the walk and motivations, the west is at least as crooked as the rest.

        NSA-NATO are concerned as the working is catching on and the propaganda war is starting to fail. It why they hate Assange, Snowden, Brown and others….our own governments are not telling us the truths.

      • Yep, and debtor fraud nations corruption wants a war to hide the economic corruption they have done to us. It is why USA wants war, as it will focus peoples hate onto others. They can blame currency value failures and all on some other enemy.

        But the real threat to the American (and Canadian) dream is our own governments. It was predicted that USA cannot be defeated by external forces, it will fail from the corruption within.

  2. This is nothing new. Take Bush Sr. Gulf war, Saddams communications were dead in 5 minutes of the war opening as the system contained NSA back doors. Lots of telecoms and Internet has back doors, even popuar “US” operating systems have call home and back doors.

    What US and NATO fears is the other side is catching up and knows the crap that US is pulling on spying on the world. They know the propaganda governments posts to us in our statism media.

    NSA knows Chinese routers are faster as they don’t have NSA code to traverse. Big reason why US government is proactive at discriminating of other countries products.

    USA spends more on CIA/military than the other top 25 nations combined, as if at constant never ending war with the world.

    And electronic/Internet and monetary warfare are underway. And USA – NATO is seeing the rest of the world realize while not at WW II combat, we are very much at constant economic and electronic warfare. And NSA is a very active participant….feeling its losing as others become aware of the totalitarian nature of DC politics.

Sign in to comment.