Saturday November 18, 2017

NATO and Canada adapting to new and evolving cyber threats

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)

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Canada and other NATO countries must do more to counter Russia's growing and increasingly sophisticated use of cyber warfare, says the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

​"This is a constantly evolving threat, and we have to constantly adapt," NATO's Jens Stoltenberg told CBC Radio's The House from the Halifax International Security Forum.

Stoltenberg says the digital threats come in many forms, and can target anybody.

"In some ways, every country is a neighbour of Russia because cyber recognizes no borders, so you might also say that Canada is a neighbour of Russia," Estonia's Defence Minister Jüri Luik told The House in Halifax.

That digital proximity, Luik argued, means that Canada should not be surprised if Russia attempts to mess with the 2019 federal election.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO

Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sits down with The House. (Nick Gamache (CBC))

"There's no doubt at the moment that we're dealing with a Russian government who has a very aggressive approach towards the West. It's not only the Baltic states, but really if you look at what's happening in other countries, in big allied countries, interference in elections, in various referenda, I mean, this is a very aggressive hybrid approach towards the West at large," he added.

"This is not a game, this is serious stuff."

Canada's electronic spy agency has already warned that online attempts to influence or undermine the country's electoral process are on the increase — and  that steps must be taken to counter the efforts.

For NATO, the priorities are to protect its own networks and counter disinformation.

When 400 German troops in Lithuania to take part in NATO operations, they faced a series of bogus stories of sexual misconduct aimed at undermining their credibility.

"We have seen that before most of the attacks were on the cyber networks of the NATO headquarters, now we are seeing more attacks against mobile phones of the soldiers," Stoltenberg said.

NATO now considers massive cyberattacks on member nations on the same level as those conducted with bullets and ballistic missiles, but the organization is still adapting.