Leaders at a NATO cyber training exercise in Poland are urging member nations to improve cyber hygiene and move towards increased collaboration in the face of growing threats to network systems, according to Johan Goossens, branch head for the organization’s Allied Command Transformation, Technology & Human Factors Branch.

NATO is holding its annual Coalition Warrior Interoperability eXercise (CWIX) from June 12 to 29 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where over 1,000 representatives from 26 nations and 88 military commands have gathered to discuss cyber innovation and present solutions for threats and vulnerabilities to public and private systems.

“Member nations are investing in cyber defense and all kinds of cyber capabilities, they tend to do that nationally. And now we’re trying to address this collectively,” said Goossens, who is also serving as the project lead for CWIX 2017. “We have to harmonize they way we do business, so we have a fair chance of working together.”

At the 2016 CWIX, NATO leaders declared cyber a “domain of operations” and subsequently developed a classified roadmap for creating deterrence guidelines. The 2017 meeting is an opportunity for member state representatives to provide an update on implementation plans.

“There are state actors who do not like NATO, there are terrorists who do not like NATO and so this will be a discussion to come. But today, the conversation is 100 percent defensive,” Goossens told sister publication Defense Daily on June 23 in a phone interview. “Since last year, there were roughly 500 fairly serious attacks against NATO networks on the unclassified side, and that was already a 40 percent increase from the year before.”

To combat the rise in cyber threats NATO leaders are urging collaboration to move away from nations making solely individual investments to a more collective set of ambitions. The main push in 2017 was to secure both public-facing and classified networks by improving cyber hygiene for all NATO system in a structured manner.

“This CWIX was all about how do we collectively achieve cyber hygiene, so when something happens in my world can I inform the other nations about this event. I might not share all the details, because they may be compromising, but I’m sharing enough that you would understand the attack factor and you can then defend against a similar threat on your side,” Goossens said. “Collective hygiene is the current stated level of ambition”

On June 22, members of NATO’s political decision making body, the North Atlantic Council, joined the conversation at CWIX.

“We tried to make the point to them that in the alliance there are really two questions. Do we have the ability to do something? And that’s typically more of a technical question. The second question is, do we have the willingness to do something? That tends to be a more a political question,” Goossens said. “At this year’s event, we’re working on that ability to do things together. We’re not addressing the willingness aspect.”

Technological innovations being exhibited include an underwater glider robot that can be deployed via remote control to send back data to classified Command & Control Systems and Poland’s “Boxer” and “Wolf” armored vehicles which patrol suspicious sites and use image recognition to send information to a Tactical Operation Center.

“The more we do together, the stronger NATO becomes and the greater the deterrence will be. That’s the effect that you really want to achieve, certainly in today’s security climate,” Goossens said.