NATO made one of its biggest policy shift in decades to send a message to Russia

  • NATO is fighting back against increasing cyber attacks by countries like Russia and China.
  • NATO recently said it will begin using cyber weapons in its military operations, a notable shift in its policy, which has traditionally only used such weapons defensively.
  • The change comes amid investigations around the world into Russia’s attempts to influence elections in the US and Europe.

NATO announced plans last month to boost its cyber defence capabilities amid ongoing threats and hacking attempts from Russia, China, and North Korea.

The move will allow NATO to proactively use cyber weapons against potential hostile governments and is perhaps the international organisation’s biggest policy shift in years.

“This is a marked departure from NATO’s historical stance of using cyber only defensively, mainly to ward off incursions against its own networks,” former NATO cyber defence adviser and retired US Air Force Col. Rizwan Ali wrote in Foreign Policy. “The more aggressive approach was intended as a strong message, primarily to Russia, that NATO intends to use the cyber capabilities of its members to deter attacks in the same way it uses land, sea, and air weaponry.”

The use of cyber weapons will now be looped in with NATO’s existing military command structure, which can deploy troops and conduct other military operations. NATO’s commanders will not be able to develop cyber weapons on their own and will only be able to get a hold of the technology on request from member nations.

“This will strengthen our cyber defences, and help integrate cyber into NATO planning and operations at all levels,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a press conference last month.

The US and its European allies have been urging NATO to boost its cyber defence operations for years, as countries like Russia and China ramp up cyber attacks in an attempt to destabilize Western interests.

In 2008, a year after Russian-sponsored hacks into the websites of Estonia’s parliament and prominent broadcasters, NATO established the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCE) to promote best practices and improve cyber information-sharing among NATO members, as well as to conduct research and training in cyber defence.

A total of 17 nations, including the US, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Turkey, and the UK contribute to the center, which is located in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city.

But the landmark CCDCE appears to have done little to deter Russia’s aggression. In the last two years, Russia has tried to interfere in elections in the US, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

It is believed that the Kremlin has continued its attacks, in large part, to retaliate against sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Although NATO did not directly call out Russia during its announcement of its new cyber policy in November, the timing of the change suggests the international alliance is growing worried about increasing attacks.

“We must be just as effective in the cyber domain as we are on land, at sea, and in the air, with real-time understanding of the threats we face and the ability to respond however and whenever we choose,” NATO’s Stoltenberg said.

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