Late last week, US Secretary Defense Robert Gates discussed (subscription) with other NATO defense ministers the possibility of invoking NATO's Article 5 in case of a cyber attack on any NATO country. Article 5 states that, â''The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.â''
The reason for the discussions was the coordinated cyber attacks that NATO member Estonia suffered during April and May. The cyber attacks against Estonia, one of if not the most wired country in Europe (its nickname is E-stonia), started soon after the Estonian government decided to move a Soviet-era World War II memorial. Estonia strongly suggested that the Russian government was behind the attacks, but the Russian government denied the charge and blamed â''hooligans.â''
Back in 2001, a similar incident occurred after the collision of a US surveillance aircraft with a Chinese jet fighter, leading to the US plane making an emergency landing in China and the Chinese fighter pilot being killed. Chinese and US hackers went at it for a few weeks defacing or bringing down websites in each otherâ''s country.
While Gates was talking with NATO ministers, US Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Elder was explaining how China is actively seeking to increase its cyber war capability, as is the US. Elder is to head up the new cyber war command established last July at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. According to Elder, the US needs to maintain cyber domain dominance, just as the US seeks to maintain air dominance in conventional warfare.
As cyber war becomes an ever increasing reality, it natural that parallels to conventional warfare are going to or have already emerged, such as countries secretly funding cyber war proxies, mercenaries and or privateers to carry out their wishes. These proxies could also become involved in the manipulation of news which could have major financial consequences, something that I have already written about.
While Gen. Elder may have the task to deal with these new threats from a US perspective, how NATO proposes to deal with the political issues involved this type of indirectly sponsored cyber warfare will be interesting to watch.
As warfare moves to the Net with active governmental support, I wonder what the new term for â''collateral damageâ'' will be in cyber space.