NATO: Military and IT industry must agree on world security

Operational and IT leaders from the armed forces of NATO member countries gathered in Lisbon this week to discuss how IT can improve security and military operations.

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Operational and IT leaders from the armed forces of NATO member countries gathered in Lisbon this week to discuss how IT can improve security and military operations.

More than 250 worldwide defence leaders attended the Defense Leaders Forum, organised by the NATO Communication Information Systems Services Agency (NCSA), Microsoft and the Portuguese Ministry of Defence.

The two-day event brought together armed forces operational and IT leaders from NATO member countries and other nations supporting the alliance's operations. They discussed how IT can improve security and military operations, as well as collaboration and interoperability between organisations.

"Maintaining computer infrastructure and security across operations in our 26 member countries is highly complex," said Lieutenant General Ulrich HM Wolf, director of NCAS in his keynote speech.

He underlined the important role of technology in NATO's current operations all over the world, especially through NATO Network Enabled Capability (NNEC). Wolf explained that NNEC "is not a vision far at the horizon of NATO's future," but rather a real concept that can be used in today's military operations.

And it is used. "The heads of states decided to go ahead with the NNEC project as the prerequisite to achieve information superiority. Consequently, NNEC is to ensure that information and situational awareness are available more quickly to the alliance than to potential adversaries," he said.

The concepts introduced by NNEC have already enhanced operational efficiency and timeliness of operational planning. Its mission is to deliver CIS support for missions, which includes saving soldiers' lives and protecting civilian populations. The project is completely network-oriented, with the goals of promoting collaboration between organisations, interoperability between systems and agencies, and the seamless exchange of information. These goals rely heavily on user-friendly interfaces and, of course, strong security measures, he said.

"Security is obviously a critical part of the project," Wolf said. "NATO, nations and industry have been facing a significant increased threat [by cybercrime] over the last years. NCSA is NATO's first operational line of cyber-defence, and we are heavily involved in fighting this war every minute of the day."

Wolf emphasised that "the more we proceed on our path to NNEC, the more attractive it becomes for adversaries to intrude, steal information or deny access."

Therefore, security and information assurance are primary concerns for NCAS, if the path towards plug and play options in a service-oriented architecture is pursued. After all, "nations will only link their networks with NATO's if they trust in NATO's capabilities," Wolf added.

Security and information assurance require not just state-of-the-art technology but also user awareness. In that regard, NNEC is about training and education as well.

"NNEC is predominantly about the people. It is the training of our people and, in particular, their willingness to share information, which is at stake," Wolf said.

There are three main players dealing with the NNEC project: NATO, its member nations (along with some partner nations that do not belong to the alliance) and the industry. Their approach on NNEC comes from two directions, top down and bottom up.

The first approach is about policies, governance and doctrines. It's also the level on which coordination and standardization with the nations and industry are being processed. Therefore, the nations are responsible to make their national programs in Network Enabled Capability are compatible with NATO's governance efforts. The second approach deals with real IT projects.

Both approaches are of great importance for NNEC's institutional dimension, as there are many challenges for sharing information that need to be overcome at both national and organisational levels. Some bureaucratic procedures must be left aside, and the information exchange of NATO, nations and industry must be improved, in particular in the area of cyberdefense.