BY BLAKE WILLIAMS
Cybersecurity is a shared concern of all NATO nations but one that is almost impossible for them to discuss openly.
Not only are the issues highly technical, but talking about them in public is unlikely in diplomatic meetings or even among defense departments and ministries.
“This is a highly technical area. The people who count are maybe the intelligence communities of the countries, some quasi-governmental organizations, (and) some defense contractors” said Kenneth Dam, a former deputy secretary of the State Department. “So how do you really get such a diplomatic conversation going?”
The alliance hopes to discuss improving their ability to prevent and recover from cyberattacks and developing norms of cyberspace behavior, according to its website.
Efforts by NATO and its members have acknowledged the importance to both public and private sectors, said Eric Chapman, the deputy director of University of Maryland’s Cybersecurity Center.
“NATO has really recognized that cybersecurity is an international problem with global implications,” he said. “The alliance has really taken important strides to move the ball forward in terms of getting to the point where there are common cyber defenses that each alliance partner will strive to maintain and possess.”
The United States, which has cybersecurity legislation in the Senate, should be careful not to position itself as the “world’s policemen” on cybersecurity but rather look to international alliances, Chapman said.
The comprehensive Cyber Security Act of 2012 establishes critical infrastructure protection obligations for the United States. Howard Schmidt, cybersecurity coordinator for President Obama, said that the country is concerned with international cooperation in addition to their internal legislation.
“Here is an opportunity to have a partnership that benefits all of us,” he said last month at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs panel on cybersecurity.
Terrorist networks and their recruiting efforts is one area where there is urgent need for cooperation in cyber defense.
Terrorist have used the expansive nature of the Internet to find those who share their beliefs. The Internet allows individuals with the most extreme and socially unacceptable views to find an outlet with like-minded individuals.
“The internet has given [terrorists] a unique platform for identifying sympathizers for recruitment purposes. That is a very real problem that I think all alliance members need to confront,” Chapman said. “It’s a very delicate dance. It’s a very fine line that has to be walked because (in the U.S.) there are First Amendment protections that have to be dealt with.”
“In recruitment, the net is cast extraordinarily wide. There is always going to be someone who is going to take that bait,” said Florida Institute of Technology professor Richard Ford. “I don’t see an easy fix to that.”
But, he said, monitoring their online activity is more beneficial than shutting down websites.
“It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole,” Ford said. “I think the better approach is just to look at these sites and use them for intelligence leverage.”
Given the diplomatic difficulties, the mere fact that it will be discussed at the summit may be the alliances main achievement, Dam said.
“I think all that can happen here is put a mantra on the importance of NATO forces being protected.”