NATO leaders should agree to make cyber warfare — the protection of networked computer systems — one of the alliance’s priorities when they hold a summit in Lisbon in November, the deputy head of the US Defense Department said Wednesday.
NATO is currently drawing up a new strategic doctrine to cover its defense planning over the next decade. Until now, debate had largely focused on questions of nuclear policy and missile defense, but Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn’s speech widened that debate.
“It is a critical element for NATO to embrace cyber security” as one of its key missions in the 21st century, Lynn said at the Security and Defense Agenda think tank in Brussels.
“I think at Lisbon we will see a high-level commitment to cyber defense and security,” he said.
NATO members already have individual systems to protect their military and government computer networks from attack. The alliance itself has a cyber-defense center dedicated to protecting NATO computers from hackers.
But those various national and NATO systems have not yet been brought together through formal, alliance-wide cooperation.
“We have to recognize cyberspace as the next domain of warfare,” Lynn stressed.
NATO should make it a priority to improve cooperation and coordination between the various national systems, Lynn said. That would not initially mean linking all the systems directly, but rather sharing information on threats, attacks and defense methods, he said.
Cyber defense shot up the NATO agenda in 2007, after pro-Russian hackers launched a massive but chaotic attack on Estonian government computer systems.
In 2008, an infected flash drive caused a breach of US Defense Department systems in what Lynn called “the most significant breach of US military computers ever.”