BERLIN, GERMANY — NATO delegates gathered on Thursday for the alliance’s first annual Cyber Defence Conference, marking a growing acceptance among allies that new methods are needed to tackle cyberattacks beyond resilience.
During the opening speeches and panel discussion — the only public elements of the conference — allies including this year’s host Germany and next year’s host the United Kingdom said they endorsed the creation of a “NATO Cyber Centre.”
The exact remit of such a body — whether it would exist to develop cyber competencies among allies, or to create a shared situational awareness for the security collective of what is happening in cyberspace, or even if it would be a tactical-level command for combined operations — was unclear.
In her opening keynote, Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Minister, told attendees: “Our commitment to prevention requires us to be able to actively defend ourselves in cyberspace if necessary.”
She cited Germany’s new National Security Strategy, which she said envisaged the creation of a dedicated entity for offensive cyber operations — although the words of the strategy are vague on the offensive side, and it includes the caveat that Germany “fundamentally reject[s] the idea of using hack-backs as a means of cyber defence.”
The ambiguity was matched by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in his address to the conference, when he said: “NATO is perfectly positioned to share information, to spread innovation, and to coordinate our collective defence in cyberspace.”
The Berlin conference was scheduled between the NATO summit in Lithuania earlier this year and next year’s summit in the United States. Recorded Future News understands that negotiations about the nature of the “NATO Cyber Centre” are intended to be concluded by the time of the Washington, D.C. summit in July.
The annual summit, being held in the U.S. for the first time since 2012, will develop on the outcomes of the Vilnius summit when allies agreed to new cybersecurity pledges — although the substance of these commitments was not detailed at the time and the documents themselves are classified.
Despite that, the official text of the Vilnius Summit Communiqué restated the position of the alliance’s Strategic Concept (2022) that “cyberspace is contested at all times” and is not just a concern for NATO during the circumstances of an international armed conflict.
The communiqué stated: “We are determined to employ the full range of capabilities in order to deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including by considering collective responses.”
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Alexander Martin is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.