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Will NATO Start World War III over a Cyber Attack?

June 20, 2016 (EIRNS)—Will a hacking attack against computer networks in a NATO member country be considered an attack to which the alliance will respond with a conventional war? That’s the implication that some are drawing from the decision, last week, made in the NATO defense ministers’ meeting to consider the cyber domain an operational domain on par with the domains of sea, air, land, and space.

"A severe cyber attack may be classified as a case for the alliance. Then NATO can and must react," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Bild Zeitung, last week. "How, that will depend on the severity of the attack." Stoltenberg said that the alliance needed to adjust to the increasingly complex series of threats it faces, which is why NATO members have agreed to defend against attacks in cyberspace just as they do against attacks launched against targets on land, in the air and at sea, reported Reuters. In other words, NATO may respond to a hacking attack with conventional weapons under Article V.

According to a report in Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten—covered by Paris-based analyst Eric Zuesse in English in a June 15 blog posting—NATO alleged that because Russian hackers had copied the emails on Hillary Clinton’s home computer, this action of someone in Russia taking advantage of her having privatized her U.S. State Department communications to her unsecured home computer and of such a Russian’s then snooping into the U.S. State Department business that was stored on it,

"might constitute a Russian attack against the United States of America, and would, if the U.S. President declares it to be a Russian invasion of the U.S., trigger NATO’s mutual-defense clause and so require all NATO nations to join with the U.S. government in going to war against Russia, if the U.S. government so decides."

According to Zuesse, NATO had already produced, in 2013, an informational propaganda video alleging that "cyberattacks" by people in Russia or in China that can compromise U.S. national security, could spark an invasion by NATO, if the U.S. President decides that the cyberattack was a hostile act by the Russian or Chinese government.

As the NATO defense ministerial was proceeding, news emerged of a hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, an attack which was immediately blamed on the Russian government. A lone hacker, with the handle Guccifer 2.0, soon claimed responsibility for the hack, but the whole episode demonstrates how difficult it really is to accurately identify those responsible for a cyber attack, particularly where there may be conflicts of interest. Commercial firms, such as the one hired by the DNC to investigate its network security, "don’t get nearly as much attention (read 0) if they leave attribution out of their report, or say that they don’t know," said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of the digital security firm Taia Global, in remarks the SearchSecurity website on June 17.

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