June 7, 2016
By Sandra Jontz

NATO is dangling roughly 3 billion euros in funding for future cyber-based initiatives to match—and then surpass—the increasingly sophisticated attacks against its 28-member alliance, officials announced Tuesday on the inaugural day of the NITEC 2016 conference.

Increased Russian aggression, instability in Europe’s south, the Syrian refugee crisis and evolving cyberthreats all have contributed toward new strategic realities, but also jockey for the same pot of limited financial resources—mobilizing the alliance to strengthen collaborations with industry for vital solutions.

The NATO Communication and Information (NCI) Agency launched its small business mentoring program to harness the help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute to NATO cyber defenses and help address emerging threats, such as three trends that prove most concerning for global government leaders, Adm. Michael Rogers, USN, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, shared at the conference, presented by the NCI Agency and AFCEA Europe and organized in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Defense. NITEC 2016 runs from June 7-9 in Tallinn, Estonia.

Globally, leaders are seeing an increase in the number and sophistication of destructive and disruptive cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, he said.

In the United States, one of Cyber Commands’ missions, if directed, is to defend critical infrastructure if attacked via cyber, Adm. Rogers said during his keynote address.

Secondly, he worries about the integrity of data. For years, organizations and companies have sought to defend against the extraction of data, for espionage or competitive advantage. But a developing trend is the manipulation of that data, not just stealing it, which then erodes the fundamental idea of trust. “What happens if the picture I’m looking at is fundamentally incorrect?” Adm. Rogers asked the roughly 500 attendees.

Finally, he worries about the emerging trends that terrorists seek to use cyber attacks as offensive weapons and tools.

Estonia sits at the epicenter for innovation and cybersecurity initiatives, many of which emerged after the debilitating 2007 distributed denial of service attacks against the nation that propelled it to pursue continued innovation, said country president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Estonia now exports much of its cyber know-how across the globe, an expertise garnered by strong public-private relations created years ago out of necessity—when the nation was “in dire straits … when we were poor,” Ilves shared.

Estonia has become a paperless nation as it pursued a massive migration to a connected digitized world. As such, it faces many more digital threats. “We have to defend ourselves from things people never thought about before,” an impassioned Ilves said.

Additionally, the nation strives to lead by example toward unprecedented government transparency, which helped contribute to a reduction in corruption, said Ilves, who learned how to code when he was 13 years old and never left the field.

The improvement places Estonia within the “better half of the EU” and over European Union nations that used to lecture the Baltic nation about corruption, he jested.

During his last four months in office, Ilves said he would like to see enhanced cooperation between governments and industry, and increased cyberthreat intelligence sharing.

Ironically, many of the issues the U.S. Defense Department deals with today stem from efforts to allocate technology to overcome problems brought on by technology—a driving force of the department’s third offset strategy, Adm. Rogers said. For example, both machine learning and artificial intelligence will be “significant game changers” for the future military ops, Adm. Rogers said.

The strategy, a wide-reaching planning guidance aimed at confronting emerging threats posed by traditional and radicalized foes, seeks to capitalize on technology to prevail over opponents, just as the department’s first offset strategy sought to be nuclear deterrence, followed by the second strategy that established the United States as a leader in stealth and precision airpower and in the discipline of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR.

NATO is following suit with enhanced focus on cyber initiatives, pursing the buildout much as it did when it created a computer response center in 2012—as a big business, said Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO’s assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges.

Yet, Ducaru reminded, NATO is unlikely to engage in any offensive cyber measures because it is a deterrence and defensive organization.