Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Content Assessment: Bracing NATO for Post-Conflict Russian Cyber Threats

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A short assessment of the qualitative benefit of the recent publication by the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) which examines potential Russian cyber threats after the Ukraine conflict ends and offers recommendations to optimize NATO cyber capabilities.

Editor’s Note: The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) is an important organization for cybersecurity, information governance, and eDiscovery professionals to follow. Based in Tallinn, Estonia, the CCDCOE serves as a hub of expertise on cyber defense issues for NATO members and partners.

The CCDCOE’s interdisciplinary team of military, government, academic, and industry experts provides thought leadership and critical analysis on key cybersecurity challenges. Through publications, training programs, exercises, and outreach, the center helps advance cyber defense capabilities and mainstream cybersecurity best practices.

Of particular note is the CCDCOE’s latest paper, “Preparing for a Post-Armed Conflict Strategic Environment,” which examines potential Russian cyber threats after the Ukraine conflict ends and offers recommendations to optimize NATO cyber capabilities. This and other CCDCOE publications deliver valuable insights for cybersecurity professionals.

Also notable is the Tallinn Manual, the most authoritative guide on applying international law to cyber operations, produced at the CCDCOE’s invitation. The center also organizes Locked Shields, the world’s largest and most advanced cyber defense exercise. Annually, Locked Shields gathers defenders from dozens of countries to simulate response to a major cyber incident.

By leveraging its international team’s diverse perspectives, the CCDCOE delivers a comprehensive, 360-degree view on issues like technology innovation, cyber strategy, real-world operations, and legal frameworks. It encourages NATO members and partners to integrate cybersecurity into their national security policies and capacities.

Through the CCDCOE’s thought leadership, training programs, exercises, and latest research, cybersecurity professionals around the globe can gain invaluable insights and expertise to apply in their own organizations and policy contexts. Its work is advancing cyber defense collaboration and capabilities worldwide.


Industry Report Summary

Preparing for a Post-Armed Conflict Strategic Environment

ComplexDiscovery Staff

A new report from the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) closely examines how Russia may employ its substantial cyber capabilities after the armed conflict in Ukraine ends. The concerning analysis warns that NATO urgently needs to prepare now to counter increased Russian cyber aggression in the post-conflict strategic environment.

Possible Armed Conflict Outcomes

The report first considers the potential outcomes of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. It outlines three broad possibilities – Russian victory, Russian defeat, or stalemate with an uneasy truce. The analysis argues that no matter the result, Russia will remain staunchly motivated to control security in Europe and see NATO as a strategic adversary. This unwavering Russian strategic ambition provides context for the report’s concerning forecasts of Russia’s likely post-conflict cyber behaviors.

Russia’s Novel Post-Conflict Capability Profile

A key part of the report’s threat assessment examines Russia’s expected capability profile after major combat ends in Ukraine. It anticipates Russia’s conventional military forces will be significantly weakened, but the country’s substantial cyber capabilities will remain largely intact, paired with its still potent nuclear arsenal. The CCDCOE warns this new and unprecedented capability mix lacking conventional force strength could drive more aggressive Russian cyber actions in the post-conflict period.

Alternative Cyber Threat Scenarios

With Russia’s nuclear deterrent and motivation to control European security architecture constant, the analysis outlines two worrisome potential cyber threat scenarios NATO may face following kinetic conflict in Ukraine. One scenario is Moscow sustains or even increases cyber attacks on NATO member countries and assets, steadily cumulating disruptive effects but intentionally avoiding armed-attack equivalency. The other is Russia feels emboldened by its nuclear deterrent and escalates to launching outright armed-attack level cyber operations against NATO members. Either scenario would present NATO with serious new strategic risks.

Recommendations to Optimize NATO Cyber Capabilities

To address these plausible risks, the report offers recommendations to optimize member states’ aggregate cyber capabilities and prepare NATO for post-conflict cyber threats. It encourages member countries to start targeting Russian cyber force generation functions now, including infrastructure and malware tools, to reduce risks of unchecked Russian cyber escalation after major fighting stops. The analysis also strongly urges NATO adoption of a proactive operational cyber posture. This would include establishing a dedicated NATO cyber operational element with mandate to continuously campaign forward in time and space to set favorable security conditions against Russian aggression in cyberspace, both within member states’ networks and external to their boundaries.

Aligning Cyber Focus with Strategic Shifts and Tilts

Finally, with some NATO member states tilting focus to challenges from China, the report argues investing in its proposed cyber defense improvements would strengthen protection against threats from both Russia and China. Enhanced NATO cyber operational capabilities would bolster resilience and security against cyber campaigns from Moscow and Beijing. In this way, the recommendations serve both European members wanting to prioritize the Russia threat and those seeking to elevate responses to China’s disruptive cyber actions worldwide.

An Urgent Alarm for Plausible Threats

The CCDCOE report sounds an urgent alarm about plausible post-conflict Russian cyber threats on the horizon. It makes the case that NATO must start bracing now for increased cyber attacks in the “day after” major combat ceases in Ukraine. To address this rising danger, the analysis advocates concrete steps to optimize NATO’s cyber defense preparedness and adopt a proactive operational posture to get ahead of the elevated Russian cyber menace. Its warning highlights that even after kinetic fighting stops, the cyber war with Russia may just be beginning.

Read the complete paper from the CCDCOE.

Cite: Fischerkeller, Michael P. “Preparing for a Post-Armed Conflict Strategic Environment.” NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, ccdcoe.org/uploads/2023/10/Preparing_for_a_Post-armed_Conflict_Strategic_Environment_Draft_Final_13102023.pdf. Accessed 17 Oct. 2023.


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