These days—in the wake of persistent attacks from hostile actors—NATO is taking cyber war very seriously. It's part of the reason why it's beginning its largest cyber attack exercise ever today, to better prepare member nations for the modern digital battlefield.
"This exercise will test our systems to make sure that NATO keeps pace with that evolving threat," said Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.
Over 400 personnel from across alliance nations will be participating in the exercise from the comfort of their home countries. Though the drills will aim at combating threats in an organized bloc.
In the last year alone, hackers from suspected enemy states have stolen sensitive intelligence from NATO networks, or in the case of Chinese spies in July—valuable Canadian scientific research and development—from right under the noses of intelligence agencies.
According to Ducaru the "the cyber threat" isn't simply one-off attacks, either. Instead, hackers exploiting NATO systems is a "daily reality," requiring persistent international coordination to combat the threat.
For NATO, the exercises are all about improving efforts and communication among member nations, "against a series of targeted cyber incidents involving a NATO mission network." As in, when NATO is attacked, it sets off alarm bells for the alliance to properly engage potential attackers.
This exercise will test our systems to make sure that NATO keeps pace with that evolving threat
And there's no mistaking how seriously NATO sees new digital enemies. In the words of the most powerful military collective in the world, cyber attacks are potentially "as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack."
But attacks on NATO infrastructure are nothing new. During tensions over Crimea in March, NATO websites and social media accounts were attacked by pro-Russian hackers. Then again in October, with hostilities still simmering with the Vladimir Putin regime, NATO computers were exploited by Russian hackers who went on to access networks in the White House.
In a proactive move, NATO looks to be interested in upgrading its computer technologies, potentially in an effort to modernize its systems to be more secure. In two separate requests for contracts in the US and Canada, NATO is asking for expertise in an effort for "Modernization and Rationalization of the NATO Technology Infrastructure." The plan is for 44 sites to be upgraded into cloud-based technologies over the next few years, with private consultants providing key expertise.
The latest NATO exercises come on the heels of real world military exercises in Ukraine in September, along with ongoing deployments of NATO troops in Poland. All those efforts are largely seen as acts of solidarity with regional powers opposing Russia.
Ultimately, with a growing list of enemy actors exploiting NATO networks, it really is high time the western military alliance sharpen its cyber defense skills before another intelligence loss, or worse.