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NATO cyber defence ahead of Warsaw Summit

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The International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon) is one of the world’s most significant conferences dealing with cyber security, organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. This year’s event – held between 31 May and 3 June, focusing on cyber power – included the participation of Gábor Berki and Dániel Berzsenyi, representatives of the Doctoral School of Military Engineering and the Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies respectively.

CyCon’s origin goes back to 2009 and has been enjoying the participation of 500 political and strategic decision-makers, high ranking military officers and cyber security experts each year. Similarly to other renowned conferences, CyCon also offers simultaneous presentations and round table discussions, so that participants could attend the discussions they most prefer in various topics. Day Zero of this year’s Cycon was a day of workshop when apart from the education of cyber defence and the management of cyber crises, the practical aspects of smart phones’ criminalistical examination was also on the agenda.

Nearly all participants of Day 1 focused on the possibility of NATO’s leaders declaring cyber sphere as the fifth dimension of warfare at the upcoming Warsaw Summit. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves stated his expectations regarding NATO’s decision in this matter, which was further emphasized by the words of Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky who reminded that nations should be ready to develop their defence capabilities in the fifth dimension of warfare as well. Admiral Manfred Nielson, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (DSACT) mentioned the significance of understanding and handling cyber sphere separately from the traditional four dimensions of warfare. Several high ranking military officers agreed that while cyber sphere is a novel area, it is not special or unique. There was also an agreement in that future military operations will utilize cyber sphere regardless of whether it will have become the fifth declared dimension of warfare or not. On the other hand, they considered the acceptance of cyber sphere as the fifth dimension important, in that it could advance the formation of NATO’s comprehensive cyber defence and cyber operations policy. Accordingly, the first day’s presentations also focused on force projection in cyber sphere, the defence of weapon systems, the state cyber activities, as well as the cyber threats related to air traffic.

Day of CyCon was hallmarked by the participation of such renowned experts as Thomas Rid, professor at King’s College London, Martin C. Libicki, professor and senior management scientist at RAND Graduate School, and Mikko Hypponen computer security expert, research director of F-Secure. The speakers highlighted the development of interactions between humans and machines from the 1940s, the role of information warfare in today’s conflicts, as well as the transformation of the capability of deterrence in the Internet’s world of no geographical boundaries. Libicki described cyber warfare along 5 characteristics with it being extremely volatile, unpredictable and not kinetic, difficult to interpret, and persistent phenomenon. Discussions after the presentations focused on the political changes related to cyber security, as well as on the Russian cyber operations, and the advantages and drawbacks of the Snowden-leakage.

Day 3 of CyCon provided an opportunity for participants to recap and discuss what they have learnt and experienced throughout the conference. The participants have concluded that several governments most likely misinterpret the definition of cyber power, and as a result focus too much on tactical achievements and do not deal with the long-term effects of operations. The increased role of short-term successes is also highlighted by the fact that instead of lasting cyber conflicts, the incidents are related to espionage or temporary disturbance of systems. Jan Neutze, Director of Cybersecurity at Microsoft, focused on the role of norms within cyber sphere, and compared the approached of government and industry, whereas David Sanger reminded that the arms race within cyber sphere sets a serious arms control and deterrence issue for humanity. The final presentation of CyCon2016 was held by Jaan Tallinn, founder of Skype, who mentioned that artificial intelligence may have negative consequences if humanity does not prepare itself for its utilization in time.

One of the most important lessons of the four-day conference was that challenges coming from cyber sphere cannot be ignored, as that would lead to lagging behind which could lead to national security challenges and threats already in the short-run. The management of these challenges, and the establishment of appropriate defences require efforts that government cannot display on its own but with the inclusion of industry and academia. Should NATO’s Warsaw Summit declare cyber sphere as the fifth dimension of warfare, it will initiate such changes within the Alliance that will be in relation to the cyber capabilities of all member states, including Hungary.