NATO is considering the use of military force against enemies who launch cyber attacks on its member states.
A team of Nato experts led by Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, has warned that the next attack on a Nato country â€œmay well come down a fibre-optic cableâ€.
A report by Albrightâ€™s group said that a cyber attack on the critical infrastructure of a Nato country could equate to an armed attack, justifying retaliation.
â€œA large-scale attack on Natoâ€™s command and control systems or energy grids could possibly lead to collective defence measures under article 5,â€ the experts said.
The organisationâ€™s lawyers say that because the effect of a cyber attack can be similar to an armed assault, there is no need to redraft existing treaties.
Eneken Tikk, a lawyer at Natoâ€™s cyber defence centre in Estonia, said it would be enough to invoke the mutual defence clause â€œif, for example, a cyber attack on a countryâ€™s power networks or critical infrastructure resulted in casualties and destruction comparable to a military attackâ€.
The concerns follow warnings from intelligence services across Europe that computer-launched attacks from Russia and China are a mounting threat. Russian hackers have been blamed for an attack against Estonia in April and May of 2007 which crippled government, media and banking communications and internet sites.
They also attacked Georgian computer systems during the August 2008 invasion of the country, bringing down air defence networks and telecommunications systems belonging to the president, the government and banks.
Alexander disclosed last week that a 2008 attack on the Pentagonâ€™s systems, believed to have been mounted by the Chinese, successfully broke through into classified areas.