Infrastructure in Eastern Europe could be the target of a major cyber attack in the near future as political forces opposed to NATO look to test the strength of the alliance, according to a respected analyst at the Heavy Reading market research business.
The warning comes amid growing concern about the activities of cyber criminals and just days after Ed Amoroso, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s former chief security officer, predicted that a major cyber attack would hit the US in the next four years. (See Amoroso: Expect Devastating US Cyber Attack.)
Amoroso reckons only five countries have the ability to carry out attacks anywhere and cover up their activities -- those being the US, Russia, China, Israel and the UK.
According to Steve Bell, a senior analyst with Heavy Reading, this fact and the current geopolitical environment make it extremely likely that an attack could also be aimed at countries in Eastern Europe that are now members of NATO.
"Amoroso said we'd see a massive cyber attack on infrastructure, and with the current geopolitics an attack could be aimed at Eastern Europe to provoke a reaction from the NATO alliance and see if it really stands up," said Bell during Light Reading's Executive Summit in Rome last week.
The implication is clearly that political forces in Russia -- one of the countries on Amoroso's list -- could use a cyber attack instead of a military incursion to gauge the likelihood of a NATO response to aggressive Russian tactics in the region.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been trying to exert influence over former Soviet bloc countries that have leaned politically toward the US and Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Russian military campaigns in Georgia and Ukraine have met with a lukewarm response from the West, prompting concern that NATO might fail to respond should Russia attack one of its member states.
Such inactivity could render NATO meaningless: Members of the alliance are supposed to respond to an attack on any other member under rules that were drawn up in the late 1940s, when NATO was first established.
Fear about the future of NATO has been exacerbated by US President-elect Donald Trump, who has previously suggested the US might not honor its commitments to NATO under his presidency and been criticized for his seemingly close relationship with Putin.
Since 1999, 12 countries in central and Eastern Europe have joined NATO, including several Baltic states home to a large number of ethnic Russians.
Bell's remarks came just before US intelligence officials were reported to have said that Russian hackers intervened to help Trump win the election -- a charge that Trump subsequently dismissed as "ridiculous."
Meanwhile, a number of analysts, including Bell, are growing concerned about the security implications of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), which could see online connectivity extended to billions of household and industrial devices over the next few years.
While investment in IoT technologies could provide a boost to productivity and create new service opportunities, it could also leave important infrastructure more vulnerable to the kind of interference that Bell describes.
"Security has to be number one," said Bell in outlining the priorities for companies targeting the IoT opportunity.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading