As your listeners heard today, NATO is a relic of the old Cold War, formed by the western nations in Europe to counter the Soviet Union and later the Warsaw Pact, which was an alliance of the Soviet Union and their eastern European client states. Originally largely a military alliance, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO became more of a political entity. Now, however, with the saber rattling being done by Russia recently in the Ukraine, NATO is bolstering its military cooperation once again, especially in the area of cyber security. Just a few weeks ago at their last leadership summit, NATO announced that the most foundational plank, the alliance’s Article 5, which says an attack on one member is an attack against all, applies to virtual attacks as well as physical attacks. It is a recognition that cyber warfare is now a very real and very dangerous.
Recently, Russia has been accused of carrying out or sponsoring cyber-attacks against Germany and other countries along its border, including an attack on the Ukraine earlier this year that almost crippled their presidential election. This isn’t the first time Russia’s secret service is suspected of trying to interfere with elections. They tried to interfere with the Estonian elections in 2007 and again in 2008 against Georgia. The Russians are even suspected of cyber-attacks against the computer systems against the White House and the U.S. State Department, which some people feel Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered in retaliation against the sanctions imposed on his country by the western allies in response to the situation in the Ukraine.
But Russia isn’t the only bad actor on the cyber scene. The security company Kaspersky Labs just released a report about an espionage campaign nicknamed Darkhotel that since 2009 has targeted thousands of people traveling through Asia. Now, trying to hack into someone’s computer isn’t news but what makes this particular campaign especially dangerous is that specific people were targeted, specifically senior executives from very prominent companies whose itineraries were stolen and whose systems were hacked using very sophisticated and individualized tools which indicates it may be the work of a government entity. That is the problem with the new Cyber Cold War: it’s not just nation-states that are at risk. Chances are, many of us will end up being collateral damage.