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Cyberwar threat way down the agenda at NATO conference

Real war, not iWar, focus for heads of state

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For all its hype the threat cyberwarfare merited less than 100 words in a summary of discussions between heads of state at NATO conference last week.

The three-day North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Romania last week focused on discussing NATO operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and plans for the further expansion of NATO, particularly in the Balkans. Cyber defense got a briefest of look-ins, as point 47 of a 50 point declaration by heads of state and government meeting at the conference. The policy statement (below), which might have been drafted by Yes Minister's Humphrey Appleby, doesn't give too much away beyond saying the NATO allies might - on request - intervene to help an ally under attack.

NATO remains committed to strengthening key Alliance information systems against cyber attacks. We have recently adopted a Policy on Cyber Defence, and are developing the structures and authorities to carry it out. Our Policy on Cyber Defence emphasises the need for NATO and nations to protect key information systems in accordance with their respective responsibilities; share best practices; and provide a capability to assist Allied nations, upon request, to counter a cyber attack. We look forward to continuing the development of NATO’s cyber defence capabilities and strengthening the linkages between NATO and national authorities.

The conference comes almost a year after the internet infrastructure of the Baltic state of Estonia, which became a NATO member in 2004, came under sustained attack. Civil unrest in Estonia over the removal of Soviet-era memorials last April was accompanied by attacks against the Baltic nation’s internet infrastructure. Several Estonian government websites remained unavailable; others such as that of the Estonian police were available only in text-only form as a result of sustained denial of service assaults, many of which were powered by networks of compromised PCs. Local banks and media outlets were also targets for the attack.

Estonian ministers pointed the finger of blame for the attacks towards the Russian government, an accusation the Kremlin denied and which remains unproven. Although technically unsophisticated, the assaults served as a wake-up to the potential damage that might be caused by DDoS attacks.

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