NATO Reports Huge Surge In Cyber Attacks in 2016

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on October 26. Francois Lenoir/reuters

NATO's top diplomat has said that cyber attacks on the alliance's network and facilities have skyrocketed by 60 percent over the past year, with the majority coming from state institutions.

In comments made to German newspaper Die Welt last month and published Thursday, NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that for just the first half of December, alliance infrastructure had already been attacked 500 times.

"They [attacks] can harm NATO's defense capability and obstruct the work of our armed forces," Stoltenberg said. According to him such attacks could impact NATO's medical or energy supplies as well as military data exchanges in general.

"If this process is interrupted then a lot of harm could be done," Stoltenberg said. He explained that NATO's Article 5—which commits every ally to contribute to joint response operations if one member is attacked—could be triggered in the case of a large-scale cyber attack.

In June 2016, NATO agreed to make cyber operations part of its war domains. The alliance has one research center in Estonia dedicated to cyber defense measures.

Stoltenberg added that reports of the alleged Russian hacks during the U.S. presidential election have sparked fear among allies.

"NATO receives messages from numerous member states who are concerned that hackers can meddle in national election campaigns," he said. "If that is the case, then hackers would be subverting democracy."