By Fang Xiaozhi
About 1,000 officials and experts from NATO allied nations, four partner nations (Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland) and the European Union took part in NATO's Cyber Coalition exercise on November 16. The exercise took place in a virtual environment this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As an annual cyber exercise of NATO initiated in 2008, the Cyber Coalition is aimed to test the bloc's cyber defence capability in the actual combat exercise, which is on a par with the Locked Shields that's more focused on training and confrontation.
Coordinated by Estonia's Cyber Security Training Centre, the exercise focused on testing NATO's real-time response to cyber attacks based on the common cyber threats, such as sabotaging classified networks, destroying the communication system of key infrastructure, and using smartphone APPs for secrets theft. It is aimed to improve NATO members' ability to jointly safeguard cybersecurity in a coordinated way, indicating how much importance the military bloc attaches to its cybersecurity and cyber combat capability.
With the evolution and escalation of cyber threats in recent years, NATO has intensified its cyber defence efforts, continuously adjusted its security policies and strategy, and made constant moves in the cyber operation domain. It has already declared cyber as an operational domain equal to the land, sea and air space, so as to reinforce the organization's overall deterrence and defence strength, and has regarded cyber defence as an important component of its "collective defence", saying that the cyber attack against any NATO member may trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
NATO issued its first cyberspace operations doctrine at the end of 2019 to provide basic guidance on implementing cyber operations. It has also deployed the rapid reaction cyber defence teams on 24/7 standby, ready to assist NATO members and allies in ensuring their cyber security anytime. Construction of the Cyberspace Operations Centre has kicked off, and the center is scheduled to be completed and put into use in 2023.
Generally speaking, NATO has been developing its cyber defence capability on multiple levels, from the lowest tactical level to the highest strategic level, and has integrated cyberspace into its combined operation system. Its constant real-combat cyber offense/defence exercises and its establishment of “digital trenches” have given rise to an integrated cyber exercise pattern across regions, nations and departments. This has not only largely broadened the scope of the three key tasks of collective defense, crisis response and cooperative security but also reflected the new trend that the member states are stepping up efforts to enhance their cyber security capabilities in coordination, intelligence sharing and security collaboration, so as to command a high ground in global cybersecurity.
Yet NATO is still faced with many problems in its cybersecurity building. For instance, although the bloc has made it clear that a cyber crisis may trigger "collective security", it hasn't laid down detailed provisions regarding the triggering procedures and the crisis scale. Moreover, conflicts are never lacking among NATO members themselves. They can hardly reach a consensus because many of them cannot strike a balance between protecting the privacy and strengthening cyber surveillance. The disputes over the transfer of cyber sovereignty have never stopped. All these will impede the development of NATO's "collective cybersecurity". It’s still a long way ahead.
(The author is a researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Development Studies of Nanjing University. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.)