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 NATO's cyber-brains gaze at the future of war

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Date posted: 25/04/2010

Behind the walls of a high-security lab, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's top cyber-minds are trying to predict the evolution of conflict in an Internet-dependent world.

While they play down disaster-movie scenarios of total meltdown, experts warn cyber-attacks will be part and parcel of future fighting.

Tallinn is home to a cutting-edge unit known in NATO-speak as the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The city is the capital of Estonia, whose flourishing hi-tech industry has earned it the label "E-Stonia".

"Definitely from the cyber-space perspective, I think we've gone further than we imagined in science fiction," said Ilmar Tamm, the Estonian colonel at its helm.

Its base is a 1905 building where military communications experts have toiled away since the days of carrier pigeons and the telegraph.

The centre's dozens of experts second-guess potential adversaries, gazing into what they dub the "fifth battlespace", after land, sea, air and space.

"The whole myriad and complex area makes it a very difficult problem to solve, and at the same time it keeps a very convenient grey area for the bad guys," explained Tamm.

"Many states have realised that this is really something that can be used as a weapon... That we should not ignore. It will have a future impact," he said.

"I'm not so naive that I'd say conventional warfare will go away. But we should expect it to be more combined," he added.

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