BRUSSELS/NEW YORK – Defense ministers from NATO’s 28 member states meet on Tuesday with cybersecurity top of the agenda, amid concerns about the threat posed by increasing cyberattacks, many blamed on China.
“The challenge evolves all the time, probably (much faster) than any other type of threat we face at the moment,” said one senior NATO official.
“We have to make certain that NATO keeps pace with the threat,” the official added, looking ahead to the meeting Tuesday and Wednesday.
Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who will be attending his first NATO meeting since taking office, has made the issue a priority.
On Saturday, he accused China of waging cyber-espionage against the U.S. after a U.S. report found evidence of a broad Chinese spying campaign against top U.S. defense contractors and government agencies.
“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber-intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he told delegates at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-la Dialogue, or IISS Asia Security Summit, in Singapore.
Hagel pressed Beijing to adhere to “international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace,” while acknowledging that the establishment of a joint cybersecurity working group was a positive step in fostering dialogue.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Saturday that the U.S. and China have agreed to hold regular, high-level meetings aimed at setting standards for behavior on cybersecurity and commercial spying.
It would be the “first diplomatic effort to defuse the tensions over what the U.S. says is a daily barrage of computer break-ins and theft of corporate and government secrets,” the report said.
An unnamed senior U.S. official involved in negotiations to hold regular meetings said in an interview Friday that “we need to get some norms and rules.” The first talks were set for July.
Earlier this year in Europe, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear that cybersecurity is a key issue. The U.S.-led military alliance had been forced to upgrade its defenses after several attacks, among them by the hacking group Anonymous, he said.
Early hacker attacks by Serbs during NATO’s campaign in Kosovo at the end of the 1990s alerted the alliance to a danger that has only become more serious since then.
In 2008, NATO established a cyberdefense center in Tallin. Estonia is one of the most connected countries in the world and had come under attack the previous year. Estonia accused Russia, NATO’s old Cold War foe, of being behind the attacks on its official sites and information networks.
The senior NATO official said the alliance would from this year fix cyberdefense benchmarks for member countries. The exercise is aimed at protecting information networks, the electronic nervous system at the heart of modern warfare, the official said.
There is no intention to develop “offensive capacities,” the official said, adding that of NATO’s 28 members, 23 have already signed up to exchange information and help in the event of a cyberattack.
One diplomat said NATO had a special problem because, just as in conventional warfare, some member “states absolutely do not have the same capabilities as others.” Some have minimal defenses while others, including the U.S., commit major resources to the problem — but may not always be ready to share their expertise, the diplomat said.