(dpa) - In April 2007, Estonia's computer servers were hit by a massive series of targeted cyber-attacks that came close to crippling the country's banks and government services.
At a summit ending on Friday in the Romanian city of Bucharest, NATO acknowledged the growing threat that this form of third- millennium warfare poses.
In a concluding declaration at the Bucharest Summit, NATO leaders for the first time formally committed themselves to "strengthening key alliance information systems" and rush to each other's defence in case of a cyber attack.
NATO officials were tasked with developing the necessary "structures and authorities" to carry this out while improving the sharing of best practices and expertise in the field with member states.
In the event, Estonia's firewalls successfully withstood the 2007 attack, which was blamed on Russian hackers, and its centre for cyber-defence in Tallinn is now much admired around the world.
In the coming months, several NATO allies and Estonia are to set up a Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.
NATO officials say the alliance has no desire to interfere in the competences of individual nation states.
But they insist NATO as an organization has the duty to protect sensitive targets such as financial and communication centres and that it has "much to contribute" in this field.
The NATO initiative will bring together civilian and military experts, set up common protocols, train anti-hackers and hold seminars on cyber-attacks.
"If one of our allies comes under attack, we need to be prepared," a NATO official said.