NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says “it is time we all woke up to the potential dangers of cyber threats.”

Speaking at a conference on cyber crime in Paris May 15, Stoltenberg said, “In the Second World War there was a popular saying, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ Today, it is weak passwords, failing to add software updates, or opening unfamiliar emails. Simple things. But if we get them right, we go a long way to protecting ourselves.”

Stoltenberg was speaking at the Ecole Militaire in the French capital on a major conference on NATO’s so-called “Cyber Defence Pledge” which, he said, had helped nations to look at their cyber-defences in a more holistic way.

NATO countries have faced a series of attacks in recent years.

In France, TV-Cinq Monde was taken off air by hackers while Fancy Bear, a group associated with the Kremlin, hacked the main political parties in the United States in what Stoltenberg called “a brazen attempt to influence the 2016 election.”

Last year’s WannaCry attack forced Renault to halt production at several of its factories and a cyberattack brought hospitals in the UK to a standstill.

“The very nature of these attacks is a challenge,” Stoltenberg said. “It is often difficult to know who has attacked you or even if you have been attacked at all. There are many different actors.

“Governments, but also criminal gangs, terrorist groups and lone individuals. Nowhere is the ‘Fog of War’ thicker than it is in cyberspace,” he said. “If these were hard attacks, using bombs or missiles instead of computer code, they could be considered an act of war. But instead, some are using software to wage a soft-war - a soft-war with very real, and potentially deadly consequences.”

In 2014, NATO leaders agreed that a cyberattack could trigger Article 5, meaning that an attack on one ally is treated as an attack on all allies.

He added, “I am often asked, ‘under what circumstances would NATO trigger Article 5 in the case of a cyber-attack?’ My answer is: we will see. The level of cyberattack that would provoke a response must remain purposefully vague as will the nature of our response.

“But it could include diplomatic and economic sanctions, cyber-responses, or even conventional forces, depending on the nature and consequences of the attack.But whatever the response, NATO will continue to follow the principle of restraint. And act in accordance with international law.”

In less than two years, almost every ally had upgraded their cyber defences with France leading the way, investing €1.6 billion and employing thousands more cyber experts.

He also pointed to Nato’s new Command Structure and Cyber Rapid Reaction teams.

Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.

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