Faced with a common cyber security threat from Chinese hackers, NATO is eyeing India as an ally in securing its computers that hold sensitive information and data against malware and Trojan viruses.
With US already signing a cyber security collaboration pact with India this July, the 28-nation American-led political and military alliance is of the view that it can collaborate with the South Asian information technology superpower in protecting the cyber world, one of the global commons.
"You have one of the most advanced cyber industries in the world... and information technology industries. The issue of cyber security is one that affects the United States, NATO and India no matter whether we are aligned or non-aligned," a senior NATO official told IANS at the alliance's headquarters here.
"The cyber world doesn't recognise alignments. It only recognises switches and servers. As a result, we are in this cyber world together, whether we like it or not.
"We better figure out a way to cooperate, particularly since it does matter that you have a neighbour (country) next door, which is pretty much involved in cyber issues, even far away. Because in the cyber world, we are equally close," the official, who did not want to be identified because of the organisation's rules, said.
Although he did not name any of India's neighbours, it was clear he was referring to China, which is suspected of being behind spy software attacks on American, NATO, Indian and Tibetan computers in the last half-a-decade, stealing highly classified military and security data.
In 2009, an investigation by Information Warfare Monitor (IWM) comprising researchers from Ottawa-based think-tank, SecDev Group, and the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had blamed a spy network of Chinese hackers, called GhostNet, to have breached the firewalls of computers of NATO and other countries, including that of Tibetan leader Dalai Lama.
Their 2010 report claimed that major Indian defence establishments, including the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, National Security Council Secretariat, National Maritime Foundation, and armed forces units were targeted and secret presentations on weapons systems stolen by Chinese hackers.
A cyber security report earlier this year had suggested that the worldwide web-based attacks in 2010 were up 93 per cent from 2009.
As recently as July this year, 'Anonymous' hackers had targeted NATO in a cyber attack.
Just a month ahead of the latest attack, NATO had decided to create a special task force to detect and respond to such attacks by beefing up its cyber defence capabilities.
Its 2010 summit in Lisbon too recognised the growing sophistication of cyber attacks and set policies for the alliance to cooperation with partner countries.
NATO has already spelt out its intention of having India as a political and military partner country, considering its growing stature as a regional power.