U.S. and Italian government officials convened in Rome on Thursday, marking the beginning of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 2022 Cyber Defence Pledge Conference, with the chief overtone of the meeting to maintain a united front amid ongoing hostilities between Russia and Ukraine.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Edmondo Cirielli opened the summit discussing how member governments are planning to modernize wartime operations—particularly by updating the cyber domain with emerging technologies to better suit technological advancements in war.
With this year’s specific focus of “Resilience, Preparedness and Responsiveness to Cyber Threats to Critical Infrastructure,” representatives from participating countries—which include all NATO member nations—will review NATO efforts to improve those nations’ threat analytics and response, as well as initial resilience.
“The conflict in Ukraine is a war of attrition, reminding us of World War I, but at the same time is an example of the 21st century battlefield,” Cirielli said. “We see trenches, but we also see the hacking…to disrupt Ukrainian military communication.”
Cirielli referenced artificial intelligence, specifically with the goal of more automation, as a priority to implement across warfighting operations.
Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technologies on the National Security Council, agreed with Cirielli in her opening statement. She doubled down on NATO’s commitment to implementing stronger cybersecurity protocols across the group’s individual digital systems.
“National cyber leaders and experts will convene panels to focus on protecting the energy sector from cyber threats and ensuring the NATO Cyber Defense Pledge keeps pace with the evolving cyber threat landscape,” a State Department spokesperson told Nextgov.
Neuberger emphasized previous NATO initiatives developed in the summer Madrid meeting, referencing the new NATO Strategic Concept framework that ally nations will adopt to build stronger cyber defenses within critical infrastructures.
“We are developing national cyber capabilities so that we are more secure as an alliance,” she commented. “We all have a responsibility to build national cyber defenses.” Part of this pledge includes working to move more quickly to provide “nimble” technical and political support to fellow NATO nations.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was the third speaker on the meeting’s introductory docket to reinforce the nature of the “invisible war in cyberspace,” and pledged continued support for Ukraine, as Russia wages digital warfare.
“Because of NATO’s strong support, we have been working to strengthen Ukraine’s cyber defenses for years with training, and information and intelligence sharing,” he said. “Cyber is constantly a contested space, and the line between peace, crisis and conflict is blurred.”
Stoltenberg further noted that NATO acknowledges cyberattacks as falling within NATO’s Article Five clause, which defines an attack on one member nation as effectively an attack on all.
“Cyber is now a domain of operations equal to those of land, sea, air and space,” he confirmed.
He continued to say that NATO has been conducting regular cyber defense training, and highlighted both host nations—Italy and the U.S.—as allies with strong cyber defenses, specifically citing President Joe Biden’s recent legislation to better monitor ransomware attacks.
Private companies have also come to the support of NATO countries. Stoltenberg noted Microsoft and Amazon cloud software providing a safe haven for Ukraine ministerial data, as Russia worked to hack its government networks. He also cited YouTube and other social media companies as taking stricter content moderation stances on Russian material.
“The threat from cyberspace is real, and it is growing,” Stoltenberg concluded. “That is why our cyber defense pledge is so important. So I call on allies to recommit to cyber defense with more investment, more expertise and enhanced cooperation.”